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Complex long-term biodiversity change among invertebrates, bryophytes and lichens

Abstract

Large-scale biodiversity changes are measured mainly through the responses of a few taxonomic groups. Much less is known about the trends affecting most invertebrates and other neglected taxa, and it is unclear whether well-studied taxa, such as vertebrates, reflect changes in wider biodiversity. Here, we present and analyse trends in the UK distributions of over 5,000 species of invertebrates, bryophytes and lichens, measured as changes in occupancy. Our results reveal substantial variation in the magnitude, direction and timing of changes over the last 45 years. Just one of the four major groups analysed, terrestrial non-insect invertebrates, exhibits the declining trend reported among vertebrates and butterflies. Both terrestrial insects and the bryophytes and lichens group increased in average occupancy. A striking pattern is found among freshwater species, which have undergone a strong recovery since the mid-1990s after two decades of decline. We show that, while average occupancy among most groups appears to have been stable or increasing, there has been substantial change in the relative commonness and rarity of individual species, indicating considerable turnover in community composition. Additionally, large numbers of species have experienced substantial declines. Our results suggest a more complex pattern of biodiversity change in the United Kingdom than previously reported.

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Fig. 1: Composite estimates of the average annual occupancy of four groups of species.
Fig. 2: Absolute change in geometric mean occupancy during the first (1970–1992) and second (1993–2015) halves of the time series for each major group.
Fig. 3: Composite estimates of two quantiles of annual occupancy across the four major groups.
Fig. 4: Composite estimates of average annual occupancy for each taxonomic subgroup.
Fig. 5: Heat map of the comparison between each species’ average occupancy estimate across the entire period and its average annual growth rate for each of the four major groups.

Data availability

The dataset analysed as a part of this study is publicly available from the Environmental Information Data Centre30. Additional information is supplied in the associated R package UKBiodiversity, which is available from GitHub (https://github.com/CharlieOuthwaite/UKBiodiversity), and Data Descriptor29.

Code availability

The code used to analyse the data is available from GitHub in the R package UKBiodiversity (https://github.com/CharlieOuthwaite/UKBiodiversity).

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Acknowledgements

We thank the following recording schemes and societies for contributing data to the dataset underlying this study and for their input in interpreting group-level change: the Aquatic Heteroptera Recording Scheme; the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society; the British Arachnological Society, Spider Recording Scheme; the British Bryological Society; the British Dragonfly Society: Dragonfly Recording Network; the British Lichen Society; the British Myriapod and Isopod Group: Centipede Recording Scheme; the British Myriapod and Isopod Group: Millipede Recording Scheme; the Chrysomelidae Recording Scheme; the Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland; the Dipterists Forum: Cranefly Recording Scheme; the Dipterists Forum: Empididae, Hybotidae and Dolichopodidae Recording Scheme; the Dipterists Forum: Fungus Gnat Recording Scheme; the Dipterists Forum: Hoverfly Recording Scheme; the Gelechiid Recording Scheme; the Grasshoppers and Related Insects Recording Scheme; the Ground Beetle Recording Scheme; the Lacewings and Allies Recording Scheme; the National Moth Recording Scheme; the Riverfly Recording Schemes: Ephemeroptera; the Riverfly Recording Schemes: Plecoptera; the Riverfly Recording Schemes: Trichoptera; the Soldier Beetles, Jewel Beetles and Glow-worms Recording Scheme; the Soldierflies and Allies Recording Scheme; the Staphylinidae Recording Scheme; the Terrestrial Heteroptera Recording Scheme—Plant bugs and allied species; the Terrestrial Heteroptera Recording Scheme—Shield bugs and allied species; the UK Ladybird Survey; and the Weevil and Bark Beetle Recording Scheme. We thank G. Mace, whose advice and comments on previous versions of this manuscript greatly improved the study. We thank T. August, G. Powney, J. Silvertown and R. Pearson for advice and comments on the draft manuscripts. We also thank J. Cranston for supplying a list of recent colonist species in the United Kingdom. This work was funded by NERC, award number NE/L008823/1, and was supported by NERC, award number NE/R016429/1, as part of the UK-SCAPE programme delivering National Capability.

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N.J.B.I., B.C. and R.D.G. conceived the study. C.L.O. extracted and analysed the data and drafted the manuscript. R.E.C. determined the composite indicator method. All authors contributed to the writing and editing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Charlotte L. Outhwaite.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Figure 1 of the main text, repeated using different thresholds for the number of records that contribute to a species’ estimate.

Five thresholds were tested: a minimum of 50 records, 75, 100, 150 and 200 records. Each facet presents composite trends in average occupancy of four groups of species. Values are scaled to 100 in 1970. Coloured lines show the average response as the geometric mean occupancy and the shaded area represents the 95% credible intervals of the posterior distribution of the geometric mean.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Figure 1 of the main text, repeated 12 times whist randomising the species within each group.

The colours and number of species within each group are maintained as in Fig. 1 of the main text, however the species have been randomly reassigned across the groups. Red = freshwater (n = 318), green = insects (n = 3089), blue = invertebrates (n = 536) and purple = bryophytes & lichens (n = 1269). Values are scaled to 100 in 1970. Coloured lines show the average response as the geometric mean occupancy and the shaded area represents the 95% credible intervals of the posterior distribution of the geometric mean.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Mean across years of the species’ mean proportion of sites with records for each of 26 taxonomic groups.

The black line shows the 1:1 relationship, error bars delimit the 95% credible intervals.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Variance across years in the species’ mean proportion of sites with records for each of 26 taxonomic groups.

The black line shows the 1:1 relationship, error bars delimit the 95% credible intervals.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–3 and Fig. 1.

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Outhwaite, C.L., Gregory, R.D., Chandler, R.E. et al. Complex long-term biodiversity change among invertebrates, bryophytes and lichens. Nat Ecol Evol 4, 384–392 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-020-1111-z

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