Networks: Developing a biological network approach to quantify indirect costs and benefits of natural ecosystems to tropical agriculture.
The Networks project is an EU-funded collaboration, through the Marie Curie IRSES programme, between the Universities of Exeter (UK), Pierre et Marie Curie (France) and SANBI. The project aims to understand the role of biodiversity in providing ecosystem services (ES), i.e. the services that natural systems provide for human wellbeing.
The role of biodiversity in ES is complex, and depends on the intricate ways in which the components of ecosystems interact. Advances in network theory, and empirical studies are now providing insight into how complex ecological systems of interacting species operate, and how influencing one part of a network can have consequences for the entire system. The Networks project focuses on investigating the interactions between mango plantations and surrounding natural ecosystems.
Initial research by Carvalheiro et al. (2010 and 2012)* found that natural vegetation was important for ensuring fruit set and increasing mango production, because it was a source of wild pollinators. But natural vegetation near farmland might also be a source of crop pests, as well as the enemies of crop pests, so natural vegetation might provide both ES and disservices. We will use an ecological network approach to quantify these opposing effects for mango farming. In this way, we hope to have a better understanding of the trade-offs between ES and the costs and benefits of natural systems. Importantly, this project includes many early stage researchers from all three countries, providing them with a range of opportunities to learn in new environments.
*Carvalheiro, L.G., Seymour, C.L., Veldtman, R. & Nicolson, S.W. (2010). Pollination services decline with distance from natural habitat even in biodiversity-rich areas. Journal of Applied Ecology 47:810-820
Carvalheiro, L.G., Seymour, C.L., Nicolson, S.W. & Veldtman, R. (2012). Creating patches of native flowers facilitates crop pollination in large agricultural fields – mango as a test case. Journal of Applied Ecology 49:1373-1383
Frank Van Veen (University of Exeter), Elisa Thebault (University Pierre et Marie Curie), Colleen Seymour (SANBI).