Influential conservation papers of 2021

5 01 2022

Following my annual tradition, I present the retrospective list of the ‘top’ 20 influential papers of 2021 as assessed by experts in Faculty Opinions (formerly known as F1000). These are in no particular order. See previous years’ lists here: 2020, 201920182017201620152014, and 2013.


Amazonia as a carbon source linked to deforestation and climate change — “… confirms what the sparse forest inventory has suggested, that climate change and land-use change is driving Amazonian ecosystems toward carbon sinks. … the research team provides a robust estimate of the carbon dynamics of one of the world’s most important ecosystems and provides insights into the role of land use change and potentials for mitigating direct carbon losses in the future.

Organic and conservation agriculture promote ecosystem multifunctionality — “… a very clear insight into the trade-offs between the different ecosystem services and indicate that yield and product quality are lower in organic systems compared to conventional systems, yet organic systems have higher economic performance due to higher product prices and subsidies.

Biodiversity of coral reef cryptobiota shuffles but does not decline under the combined stressors of ocean warming and acidification — “… even with similar richness, community function is very likely to be perturbed by ocean warming/acidification with unpredictable impacts on economically important species such as fish and corals.

Local conditions magnify coral loss after marine heatwaves — “… show that climate-induced coral loss is greater in areas with elevated seaweed abundance and elevated sea urchin densities, both of which commonly result from local overfishing … effective local management can synergize with global efforts to mitigate climate change and help coral reefs survive the Anthropocene.

Large ecosystem-scale effects of restoration fail to mitigate impacts of land-use legacies in longleaf pine savannas — “… while restoration can have major benefits in longleaf savannas, land-use legacies have clear effects on many aspects of the ecosystem.

Coral cover a stronger driver of reef fish trophic biomass than fishing — “… results have profound implications for the management of fish biomass, suggesting measures to protect the underlying coral habitat are likely to have greater benefits than reducing fishing pressure, challenging over 30 years of dogma in this field.

How close are we to the temperature tipping point of the terrestrial biosphere? — “… an overlooked mechanism for the efficiency of the land carbon sink may be rising temperatures, and not CO2 fertilization. If the differential responses of photosynthesis and respiration to temperature are playing a role in today’s sink, that mechanism provides less assurance that the land sink will continue … when increasing temperatures exceed the optimum for photosynthesis but not for respiration, the balance of photosynthesis and respiration may shift, and the land sink may decline, perhaps becoming a net source … such a shift may happen by 2040.

A meta-analysis of biological impacts of artificial light at night — “… a great source of publications on artificial light at night.

Past insecticide exposure reduces bee reproduction and population growth rate — “… adult solitary bees’ ability to build and provision nests, and to produce offspring, is strongly affected by pesticide … even where offspring is produced and survives the winter to the next flowering season, the then-adults in turn also provisioned substantially fewer offspring – a carryover effect from last year, which resulted either from toxic food, or the mothers’ abnormal behaviour as affected by pesticide neurotoxins.

We should not necessarily expect positive relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in observational field data — “[biodiversity and ecosystem functioning] relationships from observational data (based on realized diversity) could not be used to verify or refute predictions from [biodiversity and ecosystem functioning] theory … even though observational data exhibited no positive [biodiversity and ecosystem functioning] relationships and local diversity was not declining as some studies claimed, the biodiversity loss at larger scales – which concerns the local species pool or initial diversity – may still impair functioning of local ecosystems.

Stress gradients and biodiversity: monoculture vulnerability drives stronger biodiversity effects during drought years — “… species change their response to low rainfall in mixtures, suggesting beneficial effects of interspecific relative to conspecific neighbours.

Regional scalable priorities for national biodiversity and carbon conservation planning in Asia — “… when countries select 30% of their land-area for this protection target, priorities should be identified by first prioritizing global priorities, followed by continental (regional), then biome priorities … such stepwise actions on complementary scalable priorities aiming for 2030 can maximize the biodiversity and carbon potential obtained protection per unit area.

Mapping the deforestation footprint of nations reveals growing threat to tropical forests — “… increasing global trade due to a growing population, but especially due to growing prosperity, is quite significantly responsible for biodiversity losses.

Oh look! One of my own this year: Underestimating the challenges of avoiding a ghastly future — “… highlights some of the major challenges to us all over the next decade … the loss of biodiversity via mass extinctions of many species across the planet together with overconsumption and unequal resource distribution both within and between countries.

Riparian forests can mitigate warming and ecological degradation of agricultural headwater streams — “… indicates that reach-scale restoration of riparian canopies can ameliorate some aspects of stream conditions but, importantly, not all.

Long-term woodland restoration on lowland farmland through passive rewilding — “… details the benefits of allowing woodlands to become established naturally rather than planting large numbers of trees within confined areas.

Consistently positive effect of species diversity on ecosystem, but not population, temporal stability — “… emphasize the importance of biodiversity and compensatory mechanisms, particularly in terrestrial ecosystems, for the reliable provisioning of functions and services to humanity in a changing world.

Engineering complex communities by directed evolution — “… package can be used to simulate the impact of arbitrary community-level selection protocols on the microbial community and whether these selection protocols can be used to engineer communities with the desired function.

Species richness and food-web structure jointly drive community biomass and its temporal stability in fish communities — “… observed species richness-community productivity relationships were positive as has been found in many biodiversity experiments. However, richness-community stability relationships were negative and community stability related to population stability rather than to species asynchrony.

Multidimensional tropical forest recovery — “… natural successional processes returned [tropical forests] to conditions that were 90% of old growth values for many attributes … soil properties recovered in less than 10 years, plant functions recovered in less than 25 years, forest structure and diversity recovered in less than 60 years, and biomass and species composition required more than a century.


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