Economic determinants of biodiversity change over a 400-year period in the Scottish uplands.

Published online
10 Dec 2008
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Hanley, N. & Davies, A. & Angelopoulos, K. & Hamilton, A. & Ross, A. & Tinch, D. & Watson, F.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
UK & Scotland


Economic forces are recognized as an important driving factor behind current biodiversity losses. This study investigates whether such factors have been important in determining one measure of biodiversity change over the 'long run' - in our case, 400 years - for upland sites in Scotland. A combination of palaeoecological, historical and economic methods is used to construct and then analyse a database of factors contributing to changes in plant diversity over time for 11 upland sites. Using an instrumental variables panel model, we find livestock prices, our proxy for grazing pressure, to be a statistically significant determinant of diversity change, with higher grazing pressures resulting in lower diversity values on average, although site abandonment is also found to result in a fall in plant diversity. Technological change, such as the introduction of new animal breeds, was not found to be a statistically significant determinant. Using later period data (post 1860) on livestock numbers at the parish (local) level, we were able to confirm the main result noted above (3) in terms of the effects of higher grazing pressures on plant diversity. Synthesis and applications. This study shows how data from very different disciplines can be combined to address questions relevant to contemporary conservation and understanding. This novel, interdisciplinary approach provides new insights into the role of economic factors as a driver of biodiversity loss in the uplands. Biodiversity levels have varied considerably over 400 years, partly as a function of land management, suggesting that establishing baselines or 'natural' target levels for biodiversity is likely to be problematic. Changes in livestock grazing pressures brought about by changes in prices had statistically significant effects on estimated plant diversity, as did land abandonment. This suggests that long-term management of upland areas for the conservation of diversity should focus on grazing pressures as a key policy attribute. Another policy implication is that drastic cuts in grazing pressures - such as might occur under current reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy - can have adverse biodiversity consequences.

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