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  1. This paper evaluates risk-oriented frameworks for explaining environmental, social, and economic changes faced by fishing and herding communities in the Turkana Basin during and after the African Humid Period (AHP, 15–5 ka). The orbitally-forced AHP created moist conditions, high lake levels, and unusual hydrological connections across much of northern and eastern Africa. As arid conditions set in and rainfall decreased between 5.3 and 3.9 ka in eastern Africa, Lake Turkana (NW Kenya) shrank dramatically. Shoreline retreat coincided with an expansion of open plains, creating new ecological conditions and potential opportunities for early herders in the basin. In this changing landscape, economies shifted from food procurement (fishing/hunting aquatic resources) to food production (herding), likely through both in-migration by pastoralists and adoption of herding by local fishers. Early pastoralists also built at least seven megalithic pillar sites that served as communal cemeteries during this time. Recent research has shown that local environmental dynamics – both during and after the AHP – were complex, demanding a more careful interrogation of the notion that post-AHP life entailed new and/or heightened risks. Risk-buffering strategies might include mobility, diversification, physical storage, and exchange. Archaeologists working around Lake Turkana have proposed that economic shifts from fishing to pastoralism entailedmore »increased mobility as a risk-buffering strategy to deal with aridity and resource unpredictability, and that pillar sites – as fixed landmarks in an unstable landscape – provided settings for congregation and exchange amongst increasingly mobile herding communities. However, recent research has shown that local environmental dynamics in the Lake Turkana basin – both during and after the AHP – were more complex than previously thought, necessitating re-evaluation of the notion that post-AHP life entailed new and/or heightened risks. Here, we explore risk buffering strategies (e.g. mobility, diversification, physical storage and/or exchange) as only one category of potential explanation for the new social practices observed in the region at this time. Gauging their applicability requires us to (a) assess the spatial mobility of communities and individuals interred at pillar sites; (b) evaluate whether and how mobility strategies may have changed as pastoralism supplanted fishing; and (c) examine alternative explanations for social and economic changes.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 4, 2023
  2. A large body of research shows that biodiversity loss can reduce ecosystem functioning. However, much of the evidence for this relationship is drawn from biodiversity–ecosystem functioning experiments in which biodiversity loss is simulated by randomly assembling communities of varying species diversity, and ecosystem functions are measured. This random assembly has led some ecologists to question the relevance of biodiversity experiments to real-world ecosystems, where community assembly or disassembly may be non-random and influenced by external drivers, such as climate, soil conditions or land use. Here, we compare data from real-world grassland plant communities with data from two of the largest and longest-running grassland biodiversity experiments (the Jena Experiment in Germany and BioDIV in the United States) in terms of their taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic diversity and functional-trait composition. We found that plant communities of biodiversity experiments cover almost all of the multivariate variation of the real-world communities, while also containing community types that are not currently observed in the real world. Moreover, they have greater variance in their compositional features than their real-world counterparts. We then re-analysed a subset of experimental data that included only ecologically realistic communities (that is, those comparable to real-world communities). For 10 out of 12more »biodiversity–ecosystem functioning relationships, biodiversity effects did not differ significantly between the full dataset of biodiversity experiments and the ecologically realistic subset of experimental communities. Although we do not provide direct evidence for strong or consistent biodiversity–ecosystem functioning relationships in real-world communities, our results demonstrate that the results of biodiversity experiments are largely insensitive to the exclusion of unrealistic communities and that the conclusions drawn from biodiversity experiments are generally robust.« less
  3. Biodiversity-ecosystem functioning (BEF) research grew rapidly following concerns that biodiversity loss would negatively affect ecosystem functions and the ecosystem services they underpin. However, despite evidence that biodiversity strongly affects ecosystem functioning, the influence of BEF research upon policy and the management of ‘real-world’ ecosystems, i.e., semi-natural habitats and agroecosystems, has been limited. Here, we address this issue by classifying BEF research into three clusters based on the degree of human control over species composition and the spatial scale, in terms of grain, of the study, and discussing how the research of each cluster is best suited to inform particular fields of ecosystem management. Research in the first cluster, small-grain highly controlled studies, is best able to provide general insights into mechanisms and to inform the management of species-poor and highly managed systems such as croplands, plantations, and the restoration of heavily degraded ecosystems. Research from the second cluster, small-grain observational studies, and species removal and addition studies, may allow for direct predictions of the impacts of species loss in specific semi-natural ecosystems. Research in the third cluster, large-grain uncontrolled studies, may best inform landscape-scale management and national-scale policy. We discuss barriers to transfer within each cluster and suggest how newmore »research and knowledge exchange mechanisms may overcome these challenges. To meet the potential for BEF research to address global challenges, we recommend transdisciplinary research that goes beyond these current clusters and considers the social-ecological context of the ecosystems in which BEF knowledge is generated. This requires recognizing the social and economic value of biodiversity for ecosystem services at scales, and in units, that matter to land managers and policy makers.« less
  4. McGeoch, Melodie (Ed.)