Influential conservation papers of 2020

19 12 2020

Following my late-December tradition, I present — in no particular order — a retrospective list of the ‘top’ 20 influential papers of 2020 as assessed by experts in Faculty Opinions (formerly known as F1000). See previous years’ lists here: 201920182017201620152014, and 2013.


Life in fluctuating environments — “… it tackles a fundamental problem of bio-ecology (how living beings cope with the fluctuations of the environment) with a narrative that does not make use of the cumbersome formulas and complicated graphs that so often decorate articles of this kind. Instead, the narrative and the illustrations are user-friendly and easy to understand, while being highly informative.

Forest carbon sink neutralized by pervasive growth-lifespan trade-offs — “… deals with a key process in the global carbon cycle: whether climate change (CC) is enhancing the natural sink capacity of ecosystems or not.

Bending the curve of terrestrial biodiversity needs an integrated strategy — “… explores different scenarios about the consequences of habitat conversion on terrestrial biodiversity.

Rebuilding marine life — “The logic is: leave nature alone, and it will come back. Not necessarily as it was before, but it will come back.

Towards a taxonomically unbiased European Union biodiversity strategy for 2030 — “… states that the emperor has no clothes, providing an estimate of the money dedicated to biodiversity conservation (a lot of money) and then stating that the bulk of biodiversity remains unstudied and unprotected, while efforts are biased towards just a few “popular” species.

Unravelling the different causes of nitrate and ammonium effects on coral bleaching — “… demonstrate significant contrasting effects of nitrate and ammonium, both of which are associated with nitrogen pollution of coastal waters.

Synchrony matters more than species richness in plant community stability at a global scale — “… finding that stability was associated more with synchrony among dominant species than with species richness.

Robust ecological drought projections for drylands in the 21st century — “… strong regional differences in the likelihood of drought, particularly in warmer, drier areas. More worrisome, they report hot-dry days are increasing faster than regional temperatures, especially in the northern regions of these drylands, and that these conditions lead to high rates of tree mortality.

Potential for large-scale CO2 removal via enhanced rock weathering with croplands — “… illustrates the enormous potential of “smart-farming” together with the need to avoid soil damage and make an essential contribution to reducing carbon dioxide emissions and needs to be acted on at once.

Multiple elements of soil biodiversity drive ecosystem functions across biomes — “different groups of soil biota are linked to different ecosystem functions, pointing to the insurance function of having taxonomic and functional soil biodiversity.

A global network of marine protected areas for food — “… designating 5% of the world’s oceans as marine protect areas (MPAs) i.e. areas banned for fisheries, has the potential to lead to an increased future global catch by more than 20% via spillover outside the MPAs.

State of knowledge of soil biodiversity – status, challenges and potentialities — “… highlights the often-overlooked threat imposed by current farming practices on soil health across the world.

Integrating functional connectivity and fire management for better conservation outcomes — “… present novel results from computer simulations on the impact of fire regimes embedded in a matrix of land uses in the context of a human-modified landscape.

Agricultural diversification promotes multiple ecosystem services without compromising yield — “… evaluates the impact of various agricultural diversification practices on ecosystem services, including soil health, biodiversity, and nutrient cycling. Reducing tillage, intercropping, and soil amendments, such as the addition of organic matter, created win-wins with improvements in yield as well as increasing the ecosystem services provided by agricultural systems.

Mapping carbon accumulation potential from global natural forest regrowth — “… create a global, one-kilometer-resolution map of potential aboveground carbon accumulation rates for the first 30 years of natural forest regrowth. They also compared their results with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports and previous estimates. This study also provides a useful tool for quantifying the carbon sequestration potential of natural forest ecosystems.

Long term effects of outbreeding: experimental founding of island population eliminates malformations and improves hatching success in sand lizards — “… show that the founder population has much more genetic variation, superior reproductive traits, and no inbreeding depression. These beneficial effects cannot be explained by an initial heterosis of the outcrossed founders because the effects have persisted over many generations. This is a well-analysed documentation of the long-term benefits of genetic rescue via outbreeding.

Restoration of seagrass habitat leads to rapid recovery of coastal ecosystem services — “… documented that seagrass recovery lead to rapid increases in production and diversity of animals, increases in carbon and nitrogen sequestration, decreases in turbidity, and increases in previously depleted bay scallops. This is one of the larger success stories of ecosystem restoration and demonstrates that reversal of ecological collapse is possible when sustained initial efforts lead to positive feedbacks that support ecosystem recovery.

Topoclimates, refugia, and biotic responses to climate change — “… demonstrate, with empirical data on trees, strong evidence for an old idea that species become more and more restricted to certain microclimates that reflect their main distribution towards their range margins. For everyone working on effects of climate change on biodiversity this is an important reference.

Reforming global climate governance in an age of bullshit — “… OK, some bullshitters deny the gravity of the situation, but the consensus on the importance of these issues is very great. The problem is: why, if all agree that these issues are very relevant, then do we not act so as to solve them? The answer is: because we are stupid. Stupidity is a behavior that shows a lack of good sense or judgement. The stupid person knows that behavior A is bad for them, and what do they do to modify the situation? They reiterate behavior A, hoping that it will produce different outcomes than in the past.

Intensive farming drives long-term shifts in avian community composition — “… biodiversity changes in diversified agricultural systems more closely mimic those found in natural forests – suggesting a really important direction for agriculture around the world to promote food security and also the functions that diverse ecological communities offer to humanity.


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