Daniel Karp is an inaugural “NatureNet” fellow funded through the Nature Conservancy. Daniel completed his Ph.D. in 2013 and undergraduate studies in 2009 at Stanford University’s Department of Biology. His research interests center on developing innovative methods for harmonizing food production with the conservation of ecosystem services and biodiversity. Daniel’s focus is thus primarily outside reserves, where he studies biodiversity and ecosystem services in agriculture at multiple scales. His research agenda has three core dimensions. First, he investigates strategies for designing agricultural systems to achieve biodiversity conservation outcomes. Second, Daniel studies methods for harmonizing these conservation interventions with improving livelihoods. Third, he works closely with international experts in large synthetic efforts that focus on developing guidelines for monitoring and conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Biodiversity Conservation: Intensive agricultural practices such as replacing trees and hedgerows with vast monocultures threaten the substantial biodiversity that persists in farming landscapes. Using one of the most comprehensive datasets available for any tropical vertebrate taxon, Daniel found that low-intensity agriculture in Costa Rica retained surprisingly high concentrations of species, on a par with native forest. Biodiversity, however, has many dimensions beyond species richness which people value for different reasons. Daniel is currently exploring whether multiple dimensions of biodiversity respond similarly to intensification or whether there are critical tradeoffs such that managing for one component of biodiversity does not ensure the other’s conservation.
Ecosystem Services: Conserving farmland biodiversity is assumed to require settling for less than maximal yields; however, win-win opportunities may be possible by targeting conservation efforts on species providing ecosystem services to agriculture. Daniel’s dissertation work demonstrated that managing agriculture for pest-control is a win-win for farmers and biodiversity. Daniel found that Costa Rican birds mitigated damage by coffee’s most damaging insect pest in half, contributing an annual economic value to coffee farmers on a par with Costa Rica’s annual average income. Daniel’s research also found that maintaining patches of native forest boosts bird abundances, resulting in more predation on pests and lower pest infestations.
Daniel’s current work builds on this research, investigating tradeoffs in managing agriculture for food safety, biodiversity conservation, and pest control. Following a 2006 E. Coli outbreak in spinach, food safety concerns about wildlife intrusion into farms spurred massive riparian habitat removal in the Salinas Valley of California. Daniel is investigating the consequences for pest management, water quality, and food safety, and whether targeted conservation interventions could enhance ecosystem services without compromising food safety.
Syntheses: In 2010, Daniel joined the Group on Earth Observation’s Biodiversity Observation Network to design a global monitoring system for biodiversity and ecosystem services. He is currently leading an effort that draws on national statistics and models to report ecosystem services and derived societal benefits annually. Such information is critical, both to serve as an early warning system for major global changes and as feedback for policies.