Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Study Examines Future Of Species Extinction, Conservation

Date:
May 18, 2004
Source:
University Of Wisconsin-Madison
Summary:
Extinction doesn't just affect the species that disappears - it alters entire communities, changing both how the community as a whole and the individual species within it will respond to environmental degradation, according to results published in the May 13 issue of Nature.

MADISON - Extinction doesn't just affect the species that disappears - it alters entire communities, changing both how the community as a whole and the individual species within it will respond to environmental degradation, according to results published in the May 13 issue of Nature.

With extinction continuously altering the fates of plants and animals, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison say, it may be extremely difficult to predict which organisms will be the next to cease existing and that the wisest conservation plan is one that reaches beyond a particular species to protect entire communities.

The pair of researchers, interested in understanding what happens when species go extinct, developed mathematical models that look at changes in a community's tolerance to a particular environmental condition, such as global warming or acid rain.

They found that, as individual species start to disappear, two forces begin to act upon a community, making it either more or less tolerant to the environmental condition. One of these forces occurs when species disappear in the order of their sensitivity to a particular environmental factor, with the least-tolerant ones going extinct first.

"We know that some species are more sensitive to environmental stressors," says Anthony Ives, a UW-Madison zoology professor and co-author of the Nature paper. "And they often go extinct in order of their sensitivity."

With the disappearance of organisms most vulnerable to a certain condition, such as the increase of nutrients in lake water, the species best suited for that condition are left behind. This ordered extinction, notes Ives, makes the community as a whole more resistant to that environmental pressure and, in a sense, protects it from future degradation.

"One important message is that if we're going to understand the consequences of extinction, we need to pay attention to order," says Bradley Cardinale, a UW-Madison postdoctoral fellow and co-author of the recent paper. "If species go extinct in a particular order, it is possible for the surviving community to become more resistant overall."

While this finding may sound like good news, there is a downside: The researchers say that a community's resistance to an environmental condition can shift over time due to yet another force - changes in food-web interactions resulting from the extinction of individual species. All species are part of a food web, whether they are predators, prey or even competition. When a member of the food web goes extinct, it indirectly alters the livelihood of the survivors, note the researchers.

Ives explains, "Now free from the species that fed on it or competed with it for food, a species may increase in abundance." By increasing in abundance, he adds, the species makes the entire community more tolerant to the environmental pressure.

However, according to the models, the continuous extinction of organisms from a community ultimately dampens the ability of surviving species to compensate, or increase in population size, and, consequently, makes the community less resistant to changes in the environment.

"The loss of species tends to deplete a community's ability to withstand environmental degradation," says Ives.

Cardinale says that these changes in the food web and their indirect effects on organisms within a community can "change the order of extinction," basically foreshadowing new fates for species. He explains, "A species that seems insignificant now may become important later on once it's released from predation or competition."

Because of the dynamics of the food web, the researchers say it becomes challenging to determine which species may vanish next due to the forces of extinction. This leads them to suggest a more holistic approach to conservation.

"We can't just go out and conserve one species," explains Cardinale. "Because we have no idea what species may make the community resistant in the future, we would be most prudent to conserve as many as we can right now."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Wisconsin-Madison. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Wisconsin-Madison. "Study Examines Future Of Species Extinction, Conservation." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 May 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/05/040514065516.htm>.
University Of Wisconsin-Madison. (2004, May 18). Study Examines Future Of Species Extinction, Conservation. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/05/040514065516.htm
University Of Wisconsin-Madison. "Study Examines Future Of Species Extinction, Conservation." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/05/040514065516.htm (accessed September 18, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) Grand the elephant has successfully undergone surgery to remove a portion of infected tusk at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. British veterinary surgeons used an electric drill to extract the infected piece. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chimp Violence Study Renews Debate On Why They Kill

Chimp Violence Study Renews Debate On Why They Kill

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) The study weighs in on a debate over whether chimps are naturally violent or become that way due to human interference in the environment. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) The South's tobacco country is surviving, and even thriving in some cases, as demand overseas keeps growers in the fields of one of America's oldest cash crops. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Scientists say a female colossal squid weighing an estimated 350 kilograms (770 lbs) and thought to be only the second intact specimen ever found was carrying eggs when discovered in the Antarctic. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins