Monday, March 28, 2011

Loss of Plant Diversity Threatens Earth's Life-Support Systems, Experts Say

Seagrass biodiversity: Because seagrass habitat depends on a few species
of plants, lost species are often not replaced, and the effects may ripple
up to fishery species. (Credit: Jonathan Lefcheck)

This morning at Fernenland's delightful new Tumblr I found an excellent link to Science Daily where this article below was to be found. The article was able to be printed, emailed or linked via endless I have included the story source info etc at the bottom and additional links to other important related stories.I really appreciate being able to include such excellent material at the Homage blog ... biodiversity loss is profound and within certain science networks there is a keen desire to share information... keep passing it along. So feel free!

Loss of Plant Diversity Threatens Earth's Life-Support Systems, Experts Say

ScienceDaily (Mar. 24, 2011) — An international team of researchers including professor Emmett Duffy of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science has published a comprehensive new analysis showing that loss of plant biodiversity disrupts the fundamental services that ecosystems provide to humanity.
Plant communities -- threatened by development, invasive species, climate change, and other factors -- provide humans with food, help purify water supplies, generate oxygen, and supply raw materials for building, clothing, paper, and other products.
The 9-member research team, led by professor Brad Cardinale of the University of Michigan, analyzed the results of 574 field and laboratory studies -- conducted across 5 continents during the last 2 decades -- that measured the changes in productivity resulting from loss of plants species. This type of "meta-analysis" allows researchers to move beyond their own individual or collaborative studies to get a much more reliable global picture. Their study appears in the March special biodiversity issue of the American Journal of Botany.
"The idea that declining diversity compromises the functioning of ecosystems was controversial for many years," says Duffy, a marine ecologist who has studied the effects of biodiversity loss in seagrass beds. "This paper should be the final nail in the coffin of that controversy. It's the most rigorous and comprehensive analysis yet, and it clearly shows that extinction of plant species compromises the productivity that supports Earth's ecosystems."
The team's analysis shows that plant communities with many different species are nearly 1.5 times more productive than those with only one species (such as a cornfield or carefully tended lawn), and ongoing research finds even stronger benefits of diversity when the various other important natural services of ecosystems are considered. Diverse communities are also more efficient at capturing nutrients, light, and other limiting resources.
The analysis also suggests, based on laboratory studies of algae, that diverse plant communities generate oxygen -- and take-up carbon dioxide -- more than twice as fast as plant monocultures.
The team's findings are consistent for plant communities both on land and in fresh- and saltwater, suggesting that plant biodiversity is of general and fundamental importance to the functioning of Earth's entire biosphere.
Duffy, Loretta and Lewis Glucksman Professor of Marine Science at VIMS, says the team's findings are important locally because estuaries like Chesapeake Bay are naturally low in plant diversity, making them especially vulnerable to ecological surprises resulting from loss of species.
"Salt marshes and seagrass beds depend largely on one or a few species of plants that create the habitat structure," says Duffy. "When such species are lost, low diversity means there is often no one else to take their place and the effects can ripple out through the community of animals, potentially up to fishery species."
In addition to analyzing the general effects of biodiversity loss, the team also sought to determine the specific fraction of plant species needed to maintain the effective functioning of a particular ecosystem -- important information for resource managers with limited human and financial resources to manage forests, marine reserves, and other protected areas on land and sea. The results of this effort were mixed, and the team's ongoing research is tackling this question.
Data from the study did suggest, however, that biodiversity loss may follow a "tipping-point" model wherein some fraction of species can be lost with minimal change to ecological processes, followed by a sharp drop in ecosystem function as species loss continues.
Biodiversity loss in the real world
Recognizing that their findings mostly rest on analysis of short-term experiments (generally a few days, weeks, or months) in relatively small settings, the researchers also attempted to determine how diversity effects "scale-up" to longer time scales, bigger areas, or both. The authors note that these are the real-world scales "at which species extinctions actually matter and at which conservation and management efforts take place."
The team's findings suggest that scale does indeed matter, and that small laboratory and field experiments typically underestimate the effects of biodiversity loss. In the researchers' own words, "Data are generally consistent with the idea that the strength of diversity effects are stronger in experiments that run longer, and in experiments performed at larger spatial scales."
Duffy is now further testing this scaling issue with a 3-year grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation. He is using the grant to establish a global experimental network for studying how nutrient pollution and changes in biodiversity impact seagrass beds.
Study co-author Jarrett Byrnes, of the National Center for Ecological Analyses and Synthesis, says "Species extinction is happening now, and it's happening quickly. And unfortunately, our resources are limited. This means we're going to have to prioritize our conservation efforts, and to do that, scientists have to start providing concrete answers about the numbers and types of species that are needed to sustain human life. If we don't produce these estimates quickly, then we risk crossing a threshold that we can't come back from."
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Story Source:
The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Journal Reference:
  1. B. J. Cardinale, K. L. Matulich, D. U. Hooper, J. E. Byrnes, E. Duffy, L. Gamfeldt, P. Balvanera, M. I. O'Connor, A. Gonzalez. The functional role of producer diversity in ecosystemsAmerican Journal of Botany, 2011; DOI:10.3732/ajb.1000364

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I noticed that Science Daily has 582 stories on Seeds and 114 over the past year. I think I will be visiting here again very soon!


fernenland said...

Hi Sophie
Seems we have similar interests. :) Glad you found the post useful. I have fallen in love with tumblr as a way of reminding myself of things I like or that interest me. Thank you for introducing me to it, lol. Thanks also for yr last comment. I am fine, I think, aside from now having developed a phobia that compels me to look at my ankles many times a day to see if their respective sizes have changed. Pity you struck Cook Strait on a rough day. When it's calm the trip is magnificent. Sometimes there are dolphins... (Oddly I dreamt of dolphins last night - several adults and many baby dolphins.) If you're back sometime, get in touch if you have time.

Sophie Munns said...

Hi C,
Good to hear you are doing fine...
The Dolphins on the straits would be a wonderful sight... Such a shame about that bad trip...It would never put me off returning to the area where you live though!
Its good to find the similarity of interests. Science Daily is a rich site to visit I must say... and so is the tumblr world. Tumblr is a great place to archive... I know I can find links there that are important for so many reasons... anything on seeds let me know if you think of it!
have a wonderful week C!

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