Assessing changes in the agricultural productivity of upland systems in the light of peatland restoration
Freeman, Guy William
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Human activity has had a profound negative impact on the structure and function of the earth’s ecosystems. However, with a growing awareness of the value of the services provided by intact ecosystems, restoration of degraded land is increasingly used as a means of reviving ecosystem function. Upland landscapes offer an excellent example of an environment heavily modified by human land use. Agriculture has been the key driver of ecosystem change, but as upland habitats such as peatlands can provide a number of highly valuable services, future change may focus on restoration in order to regain key ecosystem processes. However, as pastoral farming continues to dominate upland areas, ecosystem restoration has the potential to conflict with existing land use. This thesis attempts to assess differences in the agricultural productivity of the different habitat types present in upland pastures. Past and present land use have shaped the distribution of different upland habitat types, and future changes associated with ecosystem restoration are likely to lead to further change in vegetation communities. Three key contributors to agricultural productivity are examined. Firstly, variation in the nutritional quality of different upland habitats is assessed, in order to understand their value for grazing animals. Secondly, levels of livestock use in different habitats are compared in order to identify areas of particular importance for grazing. Finally, parasite populations are measured in different habitats in order provide an indication of which habitats pose the greatest potential risk of infection.It is shown that these factors appear to differ between habitats, meaning that agricultural productivity may show spatial variation in upland pastures. However, it appears that peatland restoration might have a negligible impact on farming in upland pastures due to apparent minor differences in the agricultural productivity of the habitats most likely to be affected.
PhD in Biological Sciences