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Research round-up: ecosystem dependence, allotments, food security, climate science

A round-up of recent sustainable development research highlighted by our partner, the Sustainable Development Research Network (SDRN). For more news on sustainable development research and publications, join the network and receive regular SDRN mailings.

In this round-up:

Read about more recent research in the latest SDRN bulletin…

Increased dependence of humans on ecosystem services and biodiversity

Humans have altered ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than ever, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for resources along with economic development. These demands are considered to be important drivers of ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss. Are humans becoming less dependent on ecosystem services and biodiversity following economic development?

This study used roundwood production, hydroelectricity generation and tourism investment in 92 biodiversity hotspot and 60 non-hotspot countries as cases to seek the answer.

In 1980–2005, annual growth rates of roundwood production, hydroelectricity generation and tourism investment were higher in hotspot countries (5.2, 9.1 and 7.5%) than in non-hotspot countries (3.4, 5.9 and 5.6%), when GDP grew more rapidly in hotspot countries than non-hotspot countries. Annual growth rates of per capita hydropower and per capita tourism investment were higher in hotspot countries (5.3% and 6.1%) than in non-hotspot countries (3.5% and 4.3%); however, the annual growth rate of per capita roundwood production in hotspot countries (1%) was lower than in non-hotspot countries (1.4%).

The dependence of humans on cultural services has increased more rapidly than on regulating services, while the dependence on provisioning services has reduced. This pattern is projected to continue during 2005–2020.

Preliminary results indicate that economic growth has actually made humans more dependent upon ecosystem services and biodiversity. As a consequence, the policies and implementations of both economic development and ecosystems/biodiversity conservation should be formulated and carried out in the context of the increased dependence of humans on ecosystem services along with economic development.


Allotments and human health and wellbeing

The potential contribution of allotment gardens to a healthy and active lifestyle is increasingly recognised, especially for elderly populations. However, few studies have empirically examined the beneficial effects of allotment gardening.

In this Dutch study, the health, well-being and physical activity of older and younger allotment gardeners was compared to that of controls without an allotment. A survey was conducted among 121 members of 12 allotment sites in the Netherlands and a control group of 63 respondents without an allotment garden living next to the home addresses of allotment gardeners. The survey included five self-reported health measures (perceived general health, acute health complaints, physical constraints, chronic illnesses, and consultations with GP), four self-reported well-being measures (stress, life satisfaction, loneliness, and social contacts with friends) and one measure assessing self-reported levels of physical activity in summer. Respondents were divided into a younger and older group at the median age of 62 years which equals the average retirement age in the Netherlands.

After adjusting for income, education level, gender, stressful life events, physical activity in winter, and access to a garden at home as covariates, both younger and older allotment gardeners reported higher levels of physical activity during the summer than neighbours in corresponding age categories. The impacts of allotment gardening on health and well-being were moderated by age. Allotment gardeners of 62 years and older scored significantly or marginally better on all measures of health and wellbeing than neighbours in the same age category. Health and wellbeing of younger allotment gardeners did not differ from younger neighbours.


CGIAR Programme on climate change, agriculture and food security

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) has launched a new programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), with the overall goal to overcome the threats posed by a changing climate to achieving food security, enhancing livelihoods and improving environmental management.

It will work to generate a better understanding of how changes in climate will affect food security, people’s livelihoods and the environment.

The research will develop new tools to help farmers, policy-makers, researchers and donors to manage agricultural and food systems in a changing climate. Its targets are to reduce poverty by 10% in target regions; reduce the number of rural poor who are malnourished by 25%; and help farmers in developing countries contribute to climate change mitigation by either enhancing storage or reducing greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equivalent to 1,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, compared with a “business-as-usual” scenario.

The work falls into six themes: (1) diagnosing vulnerability and analysing opportunities; (2) unlocking the potential of macro-level policies; (3) enhancing engagement and communication for decision-making; (4) adaptation pathways based on managing current climate risk; (5) adaptation pathways under progressive climate change; and (6) poverty alleviation through climate change mitigation.


Met Office academic partnership

A new Met Office academic partnership has been established, consisting of a cluster of research excellence that brings together the Met Office with institutions who are amongst the leading UK Universities in weather and climate science (University of Exeter, University of Leeds and University of Reading) through a formal collaboration to advance the science and skill of weather and climate prediction.

The partnership will set in place formal arrangements for collaboration on key areas of science of common interest to the members, and where alignment of research efforts will bring substantial benefits in terms of the advancement of the science and services. It will seek to maximise the investment of the UK Government in weather and climate science, by ensuring that a critical mass of effort is brought to bear on key science challenges in a properly coordinated manner. This will allow the best science to be brought forward as rapidly as possible into the delivery of the best services.

The Partnership will consider where strategic investment of resources should be channelled, to seek to optimise the funding that comes available, and to work together to influence the future agendas of major funding agencies at national, European and international levels.


The Sustainable Development Research Network (SDRN) is an initiative funded by both Defra and the Department for Transport, and is coordinated by the Policy Studies Institute in London.

SDRN aims to facilitate and strengthen the links between providers of research and policymakers across government, in order to improve evidence-based policymaking to deliver the UK government’s objectives for sustainable development.

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