The Environmental Change Network (ECN) has found that summers in Britain are getting wetter, soils are becoming less acidic and plant species are benefitting from this.
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Long term environmental studies by the Network, which is made up of a number of the UK’s longest-running environmental research sites and is coordinated by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), show that changes in air pollution and weather patters over the past 20 years have led to increases in the number of plant species at the sites.
The researchers studying ECNs said that reductions in emissions from power stations and heavy industry are behind the reductions in acidity in non-agricultural soils.
They also noted that excess ammonia from agriculture, which “Can have an undesirable fertilising effect on sensitive plant species,” remained relatively unchanged over the period studied (1993-2012), and that the increases in species richness (higher numbers of plant species in a given area) came as a surprise.
Since the industrial revolution, average air temperatures have risen significantly (as a result of human-induced climate change), however, air temperatures at the environmental research sites showed little change over the last 20 years.
Even so, almost all of the 12 sites studied by researchers saw marked increases in summer rainfall, with showers occurring more often and becoming more intense.
The increases in species saw plants which thrive in wetter conditions doing well. Reductions in the use of fertilisers are also likely to have contributed to the overall pattern of diversity in more agricultural environments.
Looking at the species inhabiting these areas, studies by researchers at ECNs showed temperature played a significant role in the presence of butterflies and moths, and that in the site studied, changes in the ecosystem led to larger, non-flying beetles thriving.
Looking at agro-ecosystems, organically managed land had greater species richness than field margins. ■