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This page is no longer updated. The Macaulay Land Use Research Institute joined forces with SCRI joined forces on 1 April 2011 to create The James Hutton Institute. Please visit the James Hutton Institute website.

Thursday 19th September 2019

How have key Scottish habitats responded to human impacts and environmental in the recent past?

Long-term change in montane ecosystems

Quantification of long-term (40-yr) vegetation change in montane ecosystems shows decreasing lichen diversity (particularly in high N deposition areas), widespread reductions in northern/alpine species, increasing alpha-diversity, reduced beta-diversity (spatial turnover) and increased vegetation height. This long-term change was quantified by re-locating and re-surveying plots that were first monitored in the 1960s. Similar data was collected in heathlands (2006/07) and woodlands (2007/08).

Combination of these findings with experimental data over the 5 year research programme will allow us to propose and predict the main drivers of change in these systems and the implications for development and implementation of conservation policies and targets.

Results to date include widespread long-term reductions in montane lichens and ‘alpine’ plant species, for example. Combining our expt results with spatial analyses encompassing the range of variation in Scottish vegetation types, we aim to predict likely impacts of the main drivers of change, to aid the development of key conservation policies and targets.

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Novel marker techniques

Plant wax markers have been compared in archived soil and vegetation at sites representing the main Scottish soil and vegetation types. Long-chain fatty alcohols and alkanes in buried soils appear to represent some 10-1000 yrs of in-situ vegetation (corroborated by palynological fossil data at some test sites). These new methods to analyse plant wax markers in soil will enable extension of vegetation change studies into the 50-1000 year BP range, providing much higher temporal resolution than existing methods using pollen analysis. This technique could fill a gap in our understanding of the long-term consequences of environment and land-use change on vegetation and the implications for future climate change impacts.

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Research into biodiversity pic