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201124Aug15:25

Loss of plant bio­di­ver­sity is a threat to ecosys­tem services

Infor­ma­tion
pub­lished 24 August 2011 | mod­i­fied 15 March 2011
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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)

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