If what goes for worms goes for the wider world, there is an important lesson to be learned: in order to prevent extinctions, we need to improve ecosystem health – before climate change kicks in.
That is because ecosystems with larger natural diversity have better adaptive mechanisms – allowing the preservation of more biodiversity.
This at least goes for plant species and soil nematode biodiversity: the more plant species that grow on a piece of cropland, the less likely it is for worm species living in the underlying soil to die out as a consequence of rising temperatures.
This correlation was discovered by a group of ecologists led by of Madhav Thakur of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research at Leipzig University that published their findings in May in Science Advances.
Monoculture cropland + climate change = extinction formula
The researchers created a setting to compare a large number of different meadows that were exposed to artificial warming. Some plots only had one single plant species growing – increasing this plant diversity to plots with 16 plant species.
All soils had a large natural variety of soil nematodes (yes, again, worms – workhorses of our shared green planet]. Then in the monoculture meadows this nematode diversity declined as the temperature was slowly increased to mimick the effects of anthropogenic climate change.
But in the most plant-diverse meadows the opposite effect occurred – as the temperature rose the total number of nematode species actually increased. That means more nematode species settled, while apparently the initial species also had larger climate resilience.
It’s the sort of scientific insight we like most, because it offers an action perspective. We need to optimise local biodiversity, in order to protect local biodiversity.
That means nature management aiming to improve ecosystem health can be an effective means to mitigate climate-induced extinction risk. It also means we need to be very critical of the expansion of monoculture cropland.
© Rolf Schuttenhelm | www.bitsofscience.org