Estimating biodiversity changes in the Camargue wetlands: an expert knowledge approach.
Mediterranean wetlands are critical strongholds for biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem functions and services; yet, they are being severely degraded by a number of socio-economic drivers and pressures, including climate change. Moreover, we still lack comprehensive understanding of the extent to which biodiversity loss in Mediterranean wetlands will accelerate change in ecosystem processes. Here, we evaluate how changes in biodiversity can alter the ecosystem of the Camargue (southern France). We collected data on species presence/absence, trends and abundance over a 40-year period by combining observations from the scholarly literature with insights derived from expert knowledge. In total, we gathered more than 1500 estimates of presence/absence, over 1400 estimates of species abundance, and about 1400 estimates of species trends for eight taxonomic groups, i.e. amphibians, reptiles, breeding birds, fish, mammals, dragonflies (odonates), orthopterans and vascular plants. Furthermore, we used information on recently arrived species and invasive species to identify compositional changes across multiple taxa. Complementing targeted literature searches with expert knowledge allowed filling important gaps regarding the status and trends of biodiversity in the Camargue. Species trend data revealed sharp population declines in amphibians, odonates and orthopterans, while birds and plants experienced an average increase in abundance between the 1970s and the 2010s. The general increasing trends of novel and invasive species is suggested as an explanation for the changing abundance of birds and plants. While the observed declines in certain taxa reflect the relative failure of the protection measures established in the Camargue, the increasing exposure to novel and invasive species reveal major changes in the community structure of the different taxonomic groups. This study is the first attempt to assess changes in biodiversity in the Camargue using an expert knowledge approach, and can help manage the uncertainties and complexities associated with rapid social-ecological change in other Mediterranean wetlands.