Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Fight for Bumblebees

*Guest post by Sonya Sharma, a student in Marc's 'Causes and Consequences of Diversity' class.

A rusty patched bumblebee (Getty Images)

Behind the scenes of the food we see stocked in grocery stores are arguably one of the most important organisms in the world, bumblebees (Bombus), which provide pollination in both natural and managed systems. However, human food security may be at risk because of the recent worldwide declines in bumblebee populations.

Land-use change is generally accepted as being the main driver of bumblebee abundance decline. Numerous studies have documented reductions in bumblebee populations more noticeably in areas that have gone through anthropogenic changes, such as agricultural intensification and urbanization. Bumblebee species richness seems to be positively correlated with the availability of grassland resources, such as pollen sources and nesting habitat, which are scarce in agricultural landscapes. Additionally, due to the mechanical disturbances across large areas that are characteristic of agricultural landscapes, they do not typically provide suitable habitat for wild bumblebee populations. Furthermore, bumblebees have a limited flight range, long colony cycle and specific food and nesting requirements that cause them to be especially susceptible to habitat loss.

Another factor that could be leading to the wild bumblebee decline is pathogen spillover from commercialized or domestic bumblebee populations. The commercialization of bumblebees as agricultural pollinators has inadvertently made wild populations more susceptible to a variety of emergent diseases and epidemics. Commercial rearing facilities provide an ideal environment for the development of a high load of pathogens and parasites because of the high density and high rates of transmission in these facilities. Constant pathogen spillover from commercialized bumble bees with high parasite loads could potentially extirpate small wild bumblebee populations. 
A bumblebee hive- similar to ones placed in agricultural landscapes (Wikipedia)

A further contributing factor to the decline in bumblebees is the use of pesticides. Specifically, neonicotinoid containing pesticides, which are most widely used globally, have been found to dramatically reduce egg-laying by queen bumblebees. To mitigate neonicotinoids detrimental effects, a new class of pesticides are being adopted worldwide, sulfoximines. However, a recent study suggests that sulfoximines may also diminish queen bumblebees’ reproductive capacity. Exposure to small amounts to a sulfoximine containing pesticide caused colonies to produce 54% fewer male drones and no new queen bees (Meeus et al., 2011). Therefore, pesticide use is very likely a contributing factor to the widespread bumblebee decline.

All factors considered; we can conclude that bumble bee populations are in serious risk of losing diversity and possibly going extinct. However, when it was proposed in June 2018 to include four species of bumblebee in the Californian Endangered Species Act, the state was sued by the Californian Farm Bureau Federation and six other agricultural associations. These groups argue that bees cannot be protected under this law because it defines candidate species as “bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile or plant” and does not list any insects.

This conflict in government policy is not unique to California however, and is an example of the longstanding tension between conservation biologists and the agricultural industry about the protection of pollinators. If bumblebees were listed on the Californian Endangered Species Act it would restrict grazing, pesticides and the use of commercial bumblebees. It could also limit where bumblebee hives could be placed. Farmers and ranchers claim that listing bumble bees would harm agricultural production dramatically.

Other environmentalists suggest that attempts to conserve bumblebees should focus more on wildlife-friendly approaches such as increasing agricultural land set-asides, hedgerows and employing integrated pest management. Whatever the strategy taken through policy to protect bumblebees, it should aim to increase the abundance of grassland resources, reduce pathogen spillover from commercialized populations and reduce the use of harmful pesticides. How to create a policy that will appease both the agricultural industry and conservation biologists is still up for debate. However, all can agree that bumblebees are an indispensable member of both managed and natural ecosystems.

Works Cited:
Grixti, J. C., Wong, L. T., Cameron, S. A., & Favret, C. (2009). Decline of bumble bees (Bombus) in the North American Midwest. Biological Conservation, 142(1), 75–84.

Meeus, I., Brown, M. J. F., Graaf, D. C. D., & Smagghe, G. (2011). Effects of Invasive Parasites on Bumble Bee Declines. Conservation Biology, 25(4), 662–671.

Further reading:
Sulfoximine pesticide effects on bumble bees: https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/New-Pesticide-Affects-Bumblebee-Reproduction-64647

California Cotton Growers petition: https://www.cottonfarming.com/special-report/seven-ag-groups-file-lawsuit-regarding-bumblebee-species/

Conservation Groups Join California in Legal Dispute Over Protecting Bumblebees: https://www.kqed.org/science/1956515/conservation-groups-join-california-in-legal-dispute-over-protecting-bumblebees

If Bumble Bees Become Endangered In California, Farmers Say It Sets A ‘Dangerous Precedent: http://www.capradio.org/articles/2020/02/05/if-bumble-bees-become-endangered-in-california-farmers-say-it-sets-a-dangerous-precedent/

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Why Honey bees aren’t the buzz

*Guest post by Shannon Underwood, a student in Marc's 'Causes and Consequences of Diversity' class.

When you think “Save the Bees”, most likely a Honeybee comes to mind – this is primarily because they have become the flagship species for the current bee crisis. Although responsible for bringing the much-needed attention to the impact humans are having on our bee populations, they greatly misdirect the public, making a large number of people significantly less aware of the other 4,000 diverse bee species we have in North America14 – our wild (native) bees: the ones we should be more concerned about.

Fig 1. Adapted from Wilson, Forister, and Carril 2017. Above figure shows the total amount of bee species survey-participants thought were in the United States.
Pollinators are responsible for supporting 35% of the global agricultural landscapes15. Outside of agriculture, 80-95% of the native flowering plants that are found in natural ecosystems rely on animal pollinators for reproduction11. Pollination is a fundamental ecosystem service provided by a variety of animals, however most efficiently by wild bees. The unique evolutionary histories that bees share with native plants has resulted in the vast diversity of traits seen among them (Photo 1), and communities with greater bee diversity have shown to be more productive than communities with poorer diversity12 - largely because of greater resource partitioning by the wild bees. Their foraging preferences, differences in body shapes and sizes, as well as some species ability to perform a more effective technique of pollination called buzz pollination, make wild bees the most important group of pollinators.


 Photo 1: Shows the different body shapes and sizes of some wild bees. This rich diversity reflects their unique coevolution with plants.

Bees are facing substantial reductions in their diversity, range and abundances worldwide1. In North America, there are currently 12 wild bee species that are recognized as ‘threatened’ under the IUCN Red-list. Staggeringly, all 12 of these species belong to the genus Bombus- commonly referred to as the Bumblebee. Over that last 20 years, Bumblebees have become one of the largest victims of decline in North America - with four species that faced a 23-87% shrinkage in their geographic range, and a precipitous 96% reduction in their abundance2. A leading cause of the declines in wild bee populations has been largely attributed to land-use change1. While the human population continues to expand, accumulating amounts of their natural habitat is lost and replaced with agricultural and urban landscapes. The fragmented habitats that remain often have decreased accessibility to green spaces and poorer nesting opportunities for bees. Making it harder for them to grab a foothold in the community – these human-added stressors put our wild bees at a much greater risk for extinction.

Fig 3. Adapted from Szabo et al. 2012. Shows the decline in the occurrence of B. affinis (A)B. terricola (B), B. pensylvanicus (C), and all bumblebee species (D) between the years of 1980-1990 (green) and 2000-2010 (blue).

The second most prominent impact on wild bee abundance and diversity has been greatly linked to invasive species like the common Western Honey bee1. The Honeybee, native to the Old World region, has become an invasive species in all areas outside of its origin3. Their uniquely large colonies and hive formation make them the most valuable pollinator to humans in agriculture management. Wild bee health and productivity is often reduced in agricultural landscapes because of the high use of pesticides and lower foraging opportunities7. To compensate for this, the honeybee has become a highly used technique worldwide because they can be easily transported to a field for crop pollination- many policies and conservation efforts tend to primarily focus on the protection of such managed bee species because of this. But the positive attention that the honeybee receives publicly leaves many people unaware that it is even invasive in North America.

Honeybees are generalists – a common characteristic for many invasive species8. They can forage up to 2-3km outside of their hive and will recruit other colony-workers once a good food source is found, in order to maximize their foraging products3. Because of their large numbers, they can greatly increase the foraging competition for our already-threatened wild bee species. Honeybees are also prone to several diseases and can increase the risk of transmission to our wild bee populations3. Although the honeybee is valuable in agricultural pollination for its cost and time efficiency, in many cases wild pollinators are better at pollinating than the honeybee alone (Fig. 4). The honeybee lacks the ability to perform buzz pollination - the amount of pollen a queen Bumblebee can deposit to a blueberry flower in a single visit would require a honeybee to visit the same flower 4 times9. These small and diverse organisms are thus extremely important for sustaining healthy natural ecosystems, and so it becomes increasingly significant that we find ways to support their abundance and diversity during this new human-dominated era.

Fig. 4. Adapted from Garibaldi et al. 2013. The figure shows that wild insects increased reproduction (y-axis) in all crops examined than the honeybee alone.

Cities are commonly viewed as human-dominated landscapes that are inhabitable for wildlife. However, some people argue that cities may actually be ecologically valuable to certain types of species like our insect-pollinators7. Cities often have less pesticide than the surrounding rural landscapes7, and the commonly used green infrastructures like green roofs, gardens, and parks can be extremely valuable to pollinators by offering more abundant and diverse foraging opportunities. Green infrastructure in cities is also recognized as being important for decreasing flight times and even providing habitat for certain species4. Many beekeepers highlight that one of the best things anyone can do to support wild bees is to transform their property into a bee sanctuary. Plant pollinator-friendly gardens and even incorporate bee hotels into your backyard as a way to offer wild bees more opportunities in developed areas. You can also take part in projects like “Bees In My Backyard”  and “Bumble Bee watch”  to help conservationists collect information on our current bee populations. More importantly, though, just becoming educated about the threats to our wild bees and spreading awareness to the people around you is a crucial step towards refocusing our pollinator conservation efforts, and bringing the attention away from the honeybee and rightfully onto our wild bees.

Literature cited

1.     Brown, Mark J. F., and Robert J. Paxton. 2009. “The Conservation of Bees: A Global Perspective.” Apidologie 40(3): 410–16.

2.     Cameron, Sydney A. et al. 2011. “Patterns of Widespread Decline in North American Bumble Bees.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108(2): 662–67.

3.     Colla, Sheila R., and J. Scott MacIvor. 2017. “Questioning Public Perception, Conservation Policy, and Recovery Actions for Honeybees in North America.” Conservation Biology 31(5): 1202–4.

4.     Dylewski, Łukasz, Łukasz Maćkowiak, and Weronika Banaszak‐Cibicka. 2019. “Are All Urban Green Spaces a Favourable Habitat for Pollinator Communities? Bees, Butterflies and Hoverflies in Different Urban Green Areas.” Ecological Entomology 44(5): 678–89.

5.     Garibaldi, Lucas A. et al. 2013. “Wild Pollinators Enhance Fruit Set of Crops Regardless of Honey Bee Abundance.” Science 339(6127): 1608–11.

6.     Graham, Kelsey K. “Beyond Honey Bees: Wild Bees Are Also Key Pollinators, and Some Species Are Disappearing.” The Conversation. http://theconversation.com/beyond-honey-bees-wild-bees-are-also-key-pollinators-and-some-species-are-disappearing-89214 (February 20, 2020).

7.     Hall, Damon M. et al. 2017. “The city as a refuge for insect pollinators.” Conservation Biology 31(1): 24–29.

8.     “Invasive Species | U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit.” https://toolkit.climate.gov/topics/ecosystem-vulnerability/invasive-species (February 21, 2020).

9.     Javorek, S. K., K. E. Mackenzie, and S. P. Vander Kloet. 2002. “Comparative Pollination Effectiveness Among Bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea) on Lowbush Blueberry (Ericaceae: Vaccinium Angustifolium).” Annals of the Entomological Society of America 95(3): 345–51.

10.  Matias, Denise Margaret S. et al. 2017. “A Review of Ecosystem Service Benefits from Wild Bees across Social Contexts.” Ambio 46(4): 456–67.

11.  Ollerton J, Winfree R, Tarrant S: How many flowering plants are pollinated by animals? Oikos 2011, 120(3):321-326.

12.  Rogers, Shelley R., David R. Tarpy, and Hannah J. Burrack. 2014. “Bee Species Diversity Enhances Productivity and Stability in a Perennial Crop.” PLOS ONE 9(5): e97307.

13.  Szabo, Nora D. et al. 2012. “Do Pathogen Spillover, Pesticide Use, or Habitat Loss Explain Recent North American Bumblebee Declines?” Conservation Letters 5(3): 232–39.

14.  “The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.” IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. https://www.iucnredlist.org/en (February 20, 2020).

15.  “What Are Pollinators and Why Do We Need Them? (Center for Pollinator Research).” Center for Pollinator Research (Penn State University). https://ento.psu.edu/pollinators/resources-and-outreach/what-are-pollinators-and-why-do-we-need-them (February 21, 2020).

16.  “Why bees matter.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2018. http://www.fao.org/3/I9527EN/i9527en.PDF

17.  Wilson, Joseph S., Matthew L. Forister, and Olivia Messinger Carril. 2017. “Interest Exceeds Understanding in Public Support of Bee Conservation.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 15(8): 460–66.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Homogenization of Urban Macro-systems

*This post is by Rabia Ahmed, a student in Marc's 'Causes and Consequences of Diversity' class.

If you have ever walked along a residential street in the city or suburbs you will notice many similar features in each backyard. Often times personal gardens are representative of peoples’ identities and reflect their membership in the neighbourhood. With the expansion of the urban population, an increasing area is covered by personal yards. While each homeowner views their yard to be small and therefore quite insignificant to the overall ecosystem- aggregated across the country, this area quickly adds up. 

 Despite the expansion of urban ecosystems little research has been devoted to understanding the patterns of ecosystem biodiversity, function and assembly. The findings of a recent paper by Pearse et al. (2018) investigated the extent to which “residential macro-systems” are the same across different US cities. The main focus of the paper was to compare the diversity, composition and structure of cultivated yards to the natural ecosystem in different climates across the US.

The results of the study showed that indeed the phylogenetic and species composition in yards had greater homogenization across regions compared to the corresponding natural ecosystems. There was also evidence of homogenization in vegetation as the tree density in yards remained similar across regions, despite the fact that, due to environmental filters, the tree densities in the different urban climates varied significantly. For example, the natural ecosystems in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles almost had no trees, but the tree density in the yards was well above zero.

Figure 1. The above diagram shows the convex hulls (dashed line) for three species pools: cultivated (orange), spontaneous (blue) and natural (green). The regions are abbreviated, Boston, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis–St. Paul, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City as BOS, BA, LA, MI, MSP, PHX, and SL, respectively. The data shows that cultivated and spontaneous pools are more similar across regions than natural area pools, and in all cases, pools in the same geographical area are more similar than pools across a geographical region.
(Retrieved from Pearse et al. 2018)

Surprisingly, however, it was found that urban vegetation whether directly planted or spontaneously growing in the yards, had greater species richness than the comparative natural areas. The greatest phylogenetic diversity (MPD) was found within the fully cultivated yards, suggesting that these species would be better suited to future climate stressors due to their evolutionary distinctiveness. This variation in species lineages provides evidence that people prefer to have a variety of plants and flowers in their backyards which are not often found in the species pool.

Overall the data suggests that similarities in land cover and residential structural characteristics lead to a decrease in microclimate divergence at a continental scale.
These results underscore the common human preference for maintaining yards that are aesthetically pleasing and low maintenance. This homogenization has broad implications as it takes effort to keep these ecosystems the same, across forests, deserts and planes. For example, it has been observed that there is little difference between the amount of irrigation and fertilizers used by homeowners in the driest (Phoenix) or the wettest (Miami) cities.

While many argue that urban and suburban habitats do not compare to natural landscapes, recent research shows that they are more biologically diverse than previously assumed. The increased biodiversity is mostly because of the fact that people plant non-native species along with the native species, and artificial maintenance is used to overcome the environmental filter. Therefore, artificially enriched environments such as yards have both positive and negative consequences on the surrounding environment. For instance, researchers at Boston University found that trees in urban yards grow twice as fast as those in nearby forests, and store carbon at a faster rate. On the other hand, it was found that the rich mulched soils in suburban yards emitted twice as much CO2 as the soil in rural forests.

In conclusion, although yards have been given diminished importance in the study of human-dominated environments, they can provide great insight into how we can make our communities more sustainable. Residents, municipalities and neighbourhood associations can help reshape their residential macro-system into a thriving eco-system one backyard at a time. The key is to keep a balance between human preferences and other organisms’ needs, thus designing landscapes that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also support pollinators and birds.


Groffman, Peter M., et al. “Satisfaction, water and fertilizer use in the American residential macrosystem.” Environment Research Letters, vol.11, 29 Feb. 2016, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/11/3/034004
Humphries, Courtney. “The Residential Macrosystem.” Anthropocene, 21 June 2017, www.anthropocenemagazine.org/2017/06/residential-macrosystem-backyard-science/.
Pearse, William D., et al. “Homogenization of Plant Diversity, Composition, and Structure in North American Urban Yards.” Ecosphere, vol. 9, no. 2, 15 Feb. 2018, doi:10.1002/ecs2.2105.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Larval fish nurseries are facing a tiny, yet dangerous new enemy: Microplastics

*This post is by Alexa Torres, a student in Marc's 'Causes and Consequences of Diversity' class.

Recent research has shown that many larval fish species from various ocean habitats are ingesting large quantities of microplastics within their preferred nursery habitat.
Approximately 300 million tons of plastic gets manufactured per year, with around 5 to 13 million tons of it ending up in our oceans. Much of this is in “macro” form such as plastic packaging, fishing nets, and buoys that are quite easy to spot littering shorelines or swirling around the enormous circular currents of the world's oceans. Microplastics constitute pieces of plastic too small in size to be filtered out of sewage systems: synthetic fibers,  microbeads commonly used in cosmetics and industrial cleaners, as well as minuscule scraps that are broken off from any type of plastic. 

Image result for polyethylene beads in skin care
Polyethylene beads extracted from cosmetic products, as shown in an electron micrograph, regularly pass through sewage and treatment plant filters, later ending up in open waters.
Image courtesy of Adil Bakir and Richard Thompson (Plymouth University, UK)

A growing number of research as of late have been dedicated to investigating precisely where microplastics are found and their effects on marine life. While much  evidence has shown that adult fish are ingesting plastic, recent studies show that fish at their larval stage are also consuming plastics, as early as mere days after they have been spawned. Larval fish make up the next generation of adult fish of who will supply resources of protein and nutrients to populations around the world, yet little is understood as to the ocean processes that affect the survival of these quintessential organisms.
Surface slicks are naturally occurring, ribbon-like, smooth patches of water on the ocean surface. These water features typically contain high densities of larval fish as well as aggregate plankton, which are an important food source for them. In addition, surface slick nurseries concentrate lots of planktonic prey, providing an oasis of food that is critical for the development and survival for fish in their larval stages. However,  NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and an international team of scientists conducted a field study sampling coastal waters of Hawaii and discovered that the same ocean processes that were allowing for the aggregation of prey for larval fish also concentrated passively floating microplastics. “We were shocked to find that so many of our samples were dominated by plastics,” said study co-lead Dr. Jonathan Whitney, a marine ecologist for the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research and NOAA. Plenty of times, plastics found in surface sinks, and therefore larval fish nurseries, can be on average eight times higher than plastic densities found in other ocean habitats.
Larval fish lay a foundation to ecosystem function, representing the future of adult fish populations. These organisms are highly sensitive to environmental and food changes. With nurseries and larval fish populations being surrounded by and ingesting toxin-laden plastics that provide no nutrition at their utmost vulnerable life-history stage, it indicates a call for attention and cause for alarm. Plastics ingested by adult fish induce malnutrition, stemming from gut blockages and accumulation of toxins. As a more unfamiliar subject, researchers are not fully aware of the exact harm plastics cause to larval fish, however, they can predict that microplastics may play a role in negative impacts to development and even reduce survivorship of those that ingest them.
Despite calls for classification of plastics to be categorized as hazardous, there has been a lack of legislation to restrict marine debris accumulation as it is still hindered by a lack of evidence to show the exact ecological harm caused. The productivity of fisheries, as well as overall marine biodiversity, are currently threatened by a large number of anthropogenic stressors including climate change, habitat destruction, and overfishing. Modern studies have suggested that pollution of microplastics to fish nurseries and ingestion of them at larval stages are now emerging as a novel issue and have since become the lists’ newest addition.

Galloway, T., & Lewis, C. (2016). Marine microplastics spell big problems for future generations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(9), 2331-2333. Retrieved February 19, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/26468516
Katsnelson, A. (2015). News Feature: Microplastics present pollution puzzle: Tiny particles of plastic are awash in the oceans—but how are they affecting marine life? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,112(18), 5547-5549.
Rochman, C., Browne, M., Underwood, A., Van Franeker, J., Thompson, R., & Amaral-Zettler, L. (2016). The ecological impacts of marine debris: Unraveling the demonstrated evidence from what is perceived. Ecology, 97(2), 302-312. Retrieved February 19, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/24703091
University of Hawaii at Manoa. (2019, November 11). Prey-size plastics are invading larval fish nurseries. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 17, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/11/191111150636.htm

Monday, March 9, 2020

The “man” in mangroves: How does the Anthropocene impact biodiversity in these ecosystems?

 *This post is by Nina Adamo, a student in Marc's 'Causes and COnsequences of Diversity' class.

Mangroves are among the most biologically important forest ecosystems on Earth, found in the intertidal zone between land and sea along tropical and subtropical coasts around the world.7 Mangrove ecosystems provide habitat for a wide range of terrestrial as well as aquatic organisms including plants, fish, mollusks, birds, reptiles, and crustaceans, among many others.1

Mangroves also serve as nursery habitats for various fish and crab species found in coastal regions, as mangroves provide high abundances of food and shelter for developing wildlife living in coastal regions.7 Since many species use mangroves as nursery grounds, fish diversity and abundance in neighbouring coastal ecosystems has been positively linked to the proximity of mangrove areas, suggesting that mangrove habitat is critical in supporting biodiversity in surrounding coastal ecosystems.5

Figure 1: Many species such as fish and crustaceans use mangroves as a nursery site for their young, where shelter from predators and food is abundant.9

Along with supporting a wide range of biodiversity along coastal ecosystems, mangroves also provide many essential ecosystem services to humans. Some of these societal benefits include natural resources such as fish and timber, coastal protection from storms, and assisting in mitigating climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it.11
Despite the critical role mangroves play in supporting coastal biodiversity and providing ecosystem services to society, mangroves have been disappearing globally at an alarming rate of 1-2% per year due to anthropogenic activities and accelerated global climate change.4 The main threats to these ecosystems are rising sea levels causing coastal erosion, environmental condition changes due to climate change, land-use changes, deforestation, and overexploitation of natural resources.4 This has led to the loss of about 50% of mangrove coverage across the globe since 1950.10

In recent years, there have been a great number of studies that have explored the impacts of anthropogenic activities and climate change on the biodiversity of vegetation, benthic meiofauna, and benthic fauna found in mangrove ecosystems.

Figure 2: A stilt mangrove tree in a mangrove forest coastal ecosystem on an island in East Kalimantan, Indonesia.8

In the Sundarbans, which is the world’s largest remaining natural mangrove ecosystem located on the border of Bangladesh and India, there has been a homogenization of tree species composition over the span of 28 years from the 1980s to the 2010s.10 In other words, the largest remaining mangrove ecosystem has experienced a loss in community biodiversity of mangrove plant species over time due to anthropogenic activities and the environmental impact of climate change.

The loss of biodiversity in ecosystems is a crucial issue because higher biodiversity in most ecosystems typically leads to higher ecosystem functioning, so if biodiversity is lost through stressors such as habitat loss or extreme environmental conditions such as those produced through global climate change, it could have severe impacts on the diversity of an ecosystem and hence the functioning of the ecosystem as a whole.2

The biodiversity of benthic meiofauna, which are very small invertebrates that live in the bottom of aquatic mangrove ecosystems, are also negatively impacted by anthropogenic disturbances. In a comparison study of disturbed and undisturbed mangrove areas, disturbed areas displayed a 20% loss of benthic meiofauna biodiversity compared to undisturbed mangrove areas.2 Since many juvenile fish species that use mangrove ecosystems as nursery grounds rely heavily on meiofauna for food, this loss of biodiversity through anthropogenic causes could cause a reduction in ecosystem functioning not only within mangrove communities but in surrounding coastal ecosystems as well.2

A similar observation is also found with the biodiversity of benthic fauna in mangrove ecosystems in the Philippines, where protected mangrove ecosystems have significantly higher diversity and abundance of crab species than reforested mangrove ecosystems that have been disturbed by humans.1 This suggests that environmental factors influenced by climate change and human influences in mangrove ecosystems can have a negative impact on the biodiversity of benthic fauna, one of the most dominant groups in these systems, which could impair the overall functioning of the ecosystem.1

With the increasing loss of mangrove habitat and the biodiversity within it across the globe due to anthropogenic activities and climate change, it is essential that humans intervene with utilizing other paradigms such as the flagship species paradigm to increase mangrove conservation and policies to protect mangrove habitat,11 well-researched and well-managed mangrove planting restoration,6 and more research on innovative manmade artificial mangroves that may help to restore these ecosystems.3

Figure 3: Locations of the various megafauna found in mangroves (locations of mangrove areas shown in green) around the globe, with the orange representing terrestrial and the blue representing aquatic megafauna. Some examples of megafauna found in mangroves (from top-left to bottom-left in a clockwise direction) include the Key deer, Manatee, Sailfin lizard, Sawfish, Three-toed sloth, Spotted deer, Bengal tiger, Otter, Green turtle, Crocodile, and the Proboscis monkey.11

The focus of much of the recent research on mangrove conservation has utilized an ecosystem services approach, where the benefits that mangroves provide to humans is stressed as an incentive for conservation.11 For this reason, most of the research has been focused on smaller benthic invertebrates such as crabs and shrimp, rather than larger charismatic megafauna that are found in mangroves around the world such as sloths, Bengal tigers, green turtles, and proboscis monkeys.11

Conservation awareness of mangrove ecosystems could be improved by using the flagship species paradigm which uses larger charismatic species found in mangrove ecosystems in marketing campaigns that would protect the entire ecosystem in which they are found. Since charismatic megafauna have been observed in mangrove habitats across the globe, using the flagship species paradigm in conjunction with the ecosystem services paradigm could increase public awareness of the threats facing these extremely diverse and productive ecosystems.11

Conserving mangrove ecosystems around the world is important as these ecosystems provide ecosystem services to human society and play a critical role in supporting biodiversity within mangrove systems and in neighbouring coastal systems. With the increasing threat of anthropogenic activities and global climate change, the conservation and protection of mangroves is essential to reduce the decline in ecosystem functioning and biodiversity in these ecologically important ecosystems that many animals and humans alike rely on in order to live productive and successful lives.


1.     Bandibas, M. B., & Hilomen, V. V. (2016). Crab biodiversity under different management schemes of mangrove ecosystems. Global Journal of Environmental Science and Management, 2(1), 19–30. https://doi.org/10.7508/gjesm.2016.01.003

2.     Carugati, L., Gatto, B., Rastelli, E., Lo Martire, M., Coral, C., Greco, S., & Danovaro, R. (2018). Impact of mangrove forests degradation on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-31683-0

3.     Florida Atlantic University. (2018). Humanmade mangroves could get to the “root” of the problem for threats to coastal areas. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180829115627.htm

4.     Hapsari, K. A., Jennerjahn, T. C., Lukas, M. C., Karius, V., & Behling, H. (2019). Intertwined effects of climate and land use change on environmental dynamics and carbon accumulation in a mangrove-fringed coastal lagoon in Java, Indonesia. Global Change Biology. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.14926

5.     Henderson, C. J., Gilby, B. L., Schlacher, T. A., Connolly, R. M., Sheaves, M., Flint, N., Borland, H. P., & Olds, A. D. (2019). Contrasting effects of mangroves and armoured shorelines on fish assemblages in tropical estuarine seascapes. Ices Journal of Marine Science, 76(4), 1052–1061. https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsz007

6.     Kodikara, K. A. S., Mukherjee, N., Jayatissa, L. P., DahdouhGuebas, F., & Koedam, N. (2017). Have mangrove restoration projects worked? An in-depth study in Sri Lanka. Restoration Ecology, 25(5), 705–716. https://doi.org/10.1111/rec.12492

7.     Nagelkerken, I., Blaber, S. J. M., Bouillon, S., Green, P., Haywood, M., Kirton, L. G., Meynecke, J.-O., Pawlik, J., Penrose, H. M., Sasekumar, A., & Somerfield, P. J. (2008). The habitat function of mangroves for terrestrial and marine fauna: A review. Aquatic Botany, 89(2), 155–185. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aquabot.2007.12.007

8.     Rante, A. (2019, December 12). A stilt mangrove tree in a protected area on Semama Island in East Kalimantan. Supertrees: Meet Indonesia’s mangrove, the tree that stores carbon. [Image].Vox. Retrieved February 20, 2020 from https://www.vox.com/2019/12/12/21009910/climate-change-indonesia-mangroves-palm-oil-shrimp-negative-emissions-blue-carbon

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