Keynote Speakers

Niko Balkenhol

Niko received degrees in Forest Ecology, Environmental Monitoring, and Wildlife Resources. His practical experiences include working for a private consulting company where he conducted environmental impact assessments for road construction projects. He was a postdoc at the Leibniz-Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin before moving to the University of Goettingen in 2011, where he currently leads the Department of Wildlife Sciences. His research focuses on ecological connectivity, which he analyses at different biological levels (from genes to ecosystems) and by combining movement ecology, landscape genetics, and simulation modelling. Many of his projects include an assessment of road effects on functional connectivity.

Plenary session: Molecular tools to assess the ecological impacts of transportation infrastructures

Molecular tools are increasingly used to address fundamental and applied questions in ecological and biological research. Here, I provide an overview of the various ways in which molecular data can help to assess and monitor the ecological effects of transportation infrastructures. I first provide a summary of our current understanding of genetic road effects and of our analytical abilities to detect such effects. Specifically, I show that genetic barrier effects are highly variable, trait- and context-dependent and that quantifying such effects is strongly affected by the spatial and temporal distribution of available data. I illustrate these points through simulation results and empirical studies from various wildlife species. Second, I call for an increased use of genetic data to monitor barrier mitigation measures, such as over- or underpasses. While several case studies have proven the usefulness of genetic data to evaluate the effectiveness of such mitigation measures, we need to apply molecular approaches more routinely in this context and over longer time scales. Third, I review how molecular tools can greatly increase our understanding of other ecological impacts of transportation infrastructures, i.e., impacts that go beyond a barrier effect on movement and gene flow. For example, non-invasive genetic sampling or environmental DNA (eDNA) can help to detect elusive species, thus providing novel opportunities to assess how transportation infrastructures affect the distribution and/or abundance of entire communities. Finally, I will highlight that transportation infrastructures might also have evolutionary consequences that are highly relevant for management and conservation.

Francisco Moreira

Biologist. Researcher at the CIBIO (Research Center on Biodiversity and Genetic Resources), University of Porto, Portugal. Principal investigator of the research group “Biodiversity in Agricultural and Forest Ecosystems”, and chair holder of the REN Invited Research Chair in Biodiversity. Member of the Board of the Society for Conservation Biology – Europe Section. Research interests include: (a) the links between farmland and forest management and biodiversity (b) fire ecology; and (c) the biodiversity impacts of anthropogenic linear infrastructures (focus on power lines, and how they impact, through disturbance, collision and electrocution, bird population dynamics).

Plenary session: Birds using (and abusing of) linear infrastructures: storks and power lines

Power lines are increasingly widespread across many regions of the planet. Although these linear infrastructures are known for their negative impacts on bird populations, through collision and electrocution, some species take advantage of electricity pylons for nesting. We compiled historical information (1958-2014) of the Portuguese white stork Ciconia ciconia population to analyse long-term changes in numbers, distribution range and use of nesting structures. White stork population size increased 660% between 1984 and 2014. In the same period, the proportion of nests on electricity pylons increased from 1 to 25%, likely facilitated by the 60% increase in the length of the very high tension power line grid (holding the majority of the nests) in the stork’s distribution range. The main drivers of pylon use by nesting storks were distance to major feeding areas (rice fields, landfills and large wetlands), with more intensive use closer to these features. We discuss the implications of this behavioural change, and of the management responses by power line companies, both for stork populations and for managers.

Jakub Wejchert

Jakub Wejchert is senior policy officer at the Biodiversity Unit, DG Environment, European Commission. He currently contributes to the core drafting team of the new EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy. His main responsibilities include work on ecosystem condition, services, and restoration, as well as integration in to emerging economic and legal framings. Previously he worked on EU negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals. He holds a PhD and BA in Natural Sciences, from Trinity College Dublin. He recently completed an Advanced Diploma at the University of Cambridge on ecological monitoring. Married, with three children, his hobbies include horse-riding, trekking and appreciating nature.

Plenary session: The EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 - Perspectives and Implications

The loss of biodiversity, i.e. all life on earth, is a serious and urgent problem, comparable to, or even more serious than the global climate change. The European Commission’s Political Guidelines and the European Green Deal have underlined the severity of this challenge and the need to curtail biodiversity loss. The EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy planned to be adopted by end March will outline the EU’s position internationally for the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity, to be held in China in October 2020. The Biodiversity Strategy will likewise outline objectives, targets and policy measures to be undertaken in the EU. My presentation will outline key elements of the strategy relating to protection, restoration and mainstreaming, and enabling conditions, as well as implications of the strategy in particular for ecosystem restoration and green infrastructure. I will also outline recent guidance documents published the by Commission to support planners, policymakers and businesses to support the deployment of EU-level green and blue infrastructure, and to integrate ecosystems and their services in decision-making. Together these will outline the range of recent EU policy developments relevant to linear infrastructure networks and ecological solutions.

Fernanda Z. Teixeira

Fernanda is a postdoctoral researcher in the Graduate Program in Ecology / UFRGS (Brazil), where she develops research projects at the Road and Railroad Ecology Group. Fernanda is a biologist, holds a PhD in Ecology and previously was a postdoc at the Geomatics and Landscape Ecology Lab at Carleton University (Canada) and at the Environmental Analysis and Modeling Program / UFMG (Brazil). Her research interests are the mechanisms underlying the effects of roads and railways on wildlife, effectiveness of mitigation measures, and the quality and effectiveness of environmental licensing.

Plenary session: Challenges to advance road and railway ecology

Transport ecology has expanded tremendously over the past two decades and therefore mitigation measures are being implemented on roads and railroads across the globe. At the same time, we are currently facing a boom in infrastructure expansion, which are of special concern in tropical and remote areas. Acting to avoid and mitigate the impacts of both the existing and new infrastructure requires creativity and cooperation, as there are many challenges to overcome. In this talk I will discuss some of the gaps in road and railway ecology and present some possible pathways to overcome them. For example, the gaps created in the canopy pose a challenge for the movements of arboreal animals, like monkeys and tree frogs, and the effectiveness of mitigation measures for these animals needs to be tested. Many species that are not recorded as roadkill may avoid clearings and may be affected by the decreased connectivity and decreased habitat quality near roads, but mitigation for these cases still need to be developed and tested. There are still much to investigate about the relative importance of different mechanisms related to road and traffic effects and how effective are different types of mitigation. Selection of appropriate mitigation depends on the knowledge of how infrastructure affects wildlife, and we need to apply robust study designs both to better understand the effects of roads and to evaluate mitigation effectiveness.