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Nature based measures increase freshwater biodiversity in agricultural catchments

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JournalBiological Conservation
DateSubmitted - 17 May 2019
DateAccepted/In press - 12 Mar 2020
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 2 Apr 2020
Early online date2/04/20
Original languageEnglish


This is the first study that describes the effect of adding mitigation measures on the freshwater biodiversity of all waterbody types in agricultural catchments. We measured alpha (site) and gamma (catchment) richness annually over a nine-year period in all the streams, ponds and ditches in three upper-catchments in the English lowlands, and investigated whether freshwater plant biodiversity could be increased by adding: (i) multi-functional ecosystem services measures to intercept pollutants, store water and promote biodiversity, and, (ii) biodiversity-only protection measures. In the absence of measures, all catchments saw a decline in macrophyte richness during the survey (mean species loss of 1% pa, rare species loss of 2% pa). Ponds were a key habitat with a disproportionate influence on catchment trends. Five years after introducing measures, natural colonisation of ecosystem services waterbodies (dammed streams and ditches, runoff ponds, flood storage ponds) largely cancelled-out the background loss of plant species but, importantly, did not restore the loss of rare plants. Adding clean water ponds as a biodiversity-only enhancement measure brought substantial benefits: increasing total-catchment richness by 26%, and the number of rare plant species by 181%. Populations of spatially restricted species also increased. Adding stream debris-dams as a biodiversity measure did not affect plant richness or rarity. The findings suggest that ecosystem services measures could bring some biodiversity benefits to agricultural catchments. However, creating clean-water ponds specifically targeted for biodiversity could hold considerable potential as a tool to help stem, and even reverse, ongoing declines in freshwater plant biodiversity across farming landscapes.

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