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201518Nov20:41

Greater bio­di­ver­sity makes ecosys­tems more resis­tant to cli­mate change

Infor­ma­tion
pub­lished 18 Novem­ber 2015 | mod­i­fied 18 Novem­ber 2015
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Drought Effected LandscapeCan bio­di­ver­sity help pro­tect ecosys­tems in unusual cli­matic events? Given the con­tin­ued extinc­tion of species and climate-​change asso­ci­ated with increas­ingly extreme and sud­den changes in the weather, the answer is immensely impor­tant. A cur­rent study of over 40 grass­land exper­i­ments in Europe and North Amer­ica now con­firms that ecosys­tems with high bio­di­ver­sity dis­play greater resis­tance in extreme cli­mate events. The study is pub­lished online on 14 Octo­ber in the sci­en­tific jour­nal Nature.

Bio­di­ver­sity is an impor­tant fac­tor for bio­mass pro­duc­tion of plants. The idea is not new but can bio­di­ver­sity also help ecosys­tems to bet­ter resist the effects of extreme weather events? And does this sta­bil­is­ing effect occur dur­ing extreme weather or after — or both? An inter­na­tional team of sci­en­tists has now found out that species-​rich plant com­mu­ni­ties are gen­er­ally more resis­tant to exte­rior cli­matic influences.

The study
Led by Dr For­est Isbell of the Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota, over three dozen researchers from the USA, Ger­many, the United King­dom, Ire­land, France, Switzer­land, the Nether­lands, the Czech Repub­lic and Japan took part in the study. A total of 46 grass­land exper­i­ments in Europe and North Amer­ica were observed over sev­eral years and the data obtained were analysed. Firstly, the sci­en­tists ranked every year they inves­ti­gated on a five-​point scale rang­ing from “extremely dry” to “extremely wet”. They then inves­ti­gated the annual above-​ground bio­mass pro­duc­tion of plants at higher and lower lev­els of bio­di­ver­sity. The result was that the greater the num­ber of plant species grow­ing there, the lesser the effects of extreme wet or dry peri­ods on the bio­mass pro­duc­tion of grass­land. The study also included data from the Jena exper­i­ment, where the diver­sity of var­i­ous dif­fer­ent species-​rich fields has been inves­ti­gated on the Saale in Jena since 2002.

[this research] com­pre­hen­sively shows that mankind is degrad­ing the nat­ural insur­ance of ecosystems
Nico Eisen­hauer, co-​initiator and co-​author, pro­fes­sor at Cen­tre for Inte­gra­tive Bio­di­ver­sity Research (iDiv) and the Uni­ver­sity of Leipzig »

This study will help us bet­ter under­stand which role bio­di­ver­sity plays in the strug­gle by nature against unfore­seen events,” said Eisen­hauer. In his view, the results show “very impres­sively that the destruc­tion of the envi­ron­ment is hav­ing a long-​lasting, neg­a­tive effect on the nat­ural bal­ance of our ecosystems.”

The result
The study found that, dur­ing extreme weather con­di­tions, pro­duc­tiv­ity in plant com­mu­ni­ties with only one or two species changed by an aver­age of 50 per­cent, whereas they changed only 25 per­cent in com­mu­ni­ties with 16 or 32 species. “We sci­en­tists have been look­ing for decades for sta­bil­is­ing fac­tors for ecosys­tems,” Eisen­hauer explains. “These results should show us researchers and polit­i­cal actors how far bio­di­ver­sity helps sta­bilise our ecosys­tems — espe­cially given world­wide cli­mate change.”

Unex­pected result
How­ever, there was one result that the researchers did not expect — the study also showed that bio­di­ver­sity has no par­tic­u­larly major influ­ence on how quickly an area returns to nor­mal bio­mass pro­duc­tion after a drought or heavy rains. Dylan Craven, co-​author and an iDiv post-​doctoral researcher, summed up: “A future chal­lenge will be to inves­ti­gate which fac­tors — except bio­di­ver­sity — cause ecosys­tems to recover after extreme cli­matic events.”


(Source: iDiv press release, 15.10.2015; Mongabay, 04.11.2015)


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