Majority of plant species necessary for sustaining biodiversity

The current decline in worldwide biodiversity is like playing a slow motion game of dominoes. If one stone is tipped, the chances of another one eventually following are significant, but the more species are in an ecosystem, the less likely it is to stop functioning. In a nutshell this is the result of a study as published in Nature on the influence of separate species on ecological processes.

Putting it all together

An international team of researchers compiled and analysed the results of a large number of biodiversity experiments. The experiments that were used for the study attempted to determine the effects on ecosystem functioning of plant species loss. Overall consensus in the results of the experiments was that a higher level of biodiversity results in an increase in ecosystem processes.

The researcher’s goal was investigating to what extent the positive effects of biodiversity still apply under a number of varying environmental conditions. In other words, what will happen to an ecosystem if you remove one species and put the system through a series of variables like time, location, ecosystem processes and a range of global change scenarios, including global warming or land use intensity?

Some species invaluable

Of the 147 plant species included in the experiments, no less than 84 per cent turned out to be invaluable in at least one ecological process. If more variables were taken into account, more plant species were necessary to guarantee the functioning of the ecosystems. Some species were even necessary to keep an ecosystem running in all the different combinations of scenarios that the scientists used.

This study was focussed solely on plants, but we have shown before that plant loss can also affect animal life. So if we want to keep exploiting nature for food, building materials, medicines and so on, more biodiversity is always better.

© Jorn van Dooren |

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