A recent comprehensive analysis shows that loss of plant biodiversity disrupts the fundamental services that ecosystems provide to humanity. These ecosystem services provide man with food, purify water supplies, generate oxygen, control pest/diseases, and supply raw materials for building, clothing, paper, and other products.
This most rigorous and comprehensive analysis yet, of 574 studies that measured the changes in productivity due to loss of plant species, clearly shows that extinction of plant species compromises Mother Earth’s ecosystem services.
The researchers, with the publication of their results in the American Journal of Botany, put an end to the ongoing debate on this issue. They show that plant communities with many different species are nearly 1.5 times more productive than those with only one species, and ongoing research finds even stronger benefits of diversity when the various other important natural services of ecosystems are considered. The analysis also suggests, that diverse plant communities generate oxygen, and take-up carbon dioxide, more than twice as fast as plant monocultures. The researcher’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.
In addition to this analysis, the team of researchers tried to determine if there is a specific fraction of plant species required to maintain a viable and effective functioning ecosystem. If so, this could aid policy makers and resource managers in making cost-efficient decisions. The results are not conclusive, but indicate 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.
When upscaling the small laboratory and field experiments to more real world situations, where conservation efforst take place to prevent species extinctions, the researchers found suggestions that scale does matter, and that these small laboratory and field experiments typically underestimate the effects of biodiversity loss.
As species extinction and loss of biodiversity is not an imaginary issue, and appears to increase at an alarming rate, measures are needed to maintain Earth’s ecosystem services. Otherwise, we will go on life support, which has only one obvious outcome: death! We will not be able to prevent all extinctions due to limited resources and pure ignorance, so, research is needed to provide information on the numbers and types of species that are needed to sustain life. (Sources: American Journal of Botany, 2011; ScienceDaily, 07.03.2011)