Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Drawing connections between food webs: Universal truths about species' roles uncovered

Date:
April 4, 2012
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Researchers have discovered universal truths about species' roles in food webs. The findings could open doors to increasingly global approaches in conservation.

Gray wolf in winter forest. The gray wolf is a keystone species.
Credit: outdoorsman / Fotolia

Ecosystems today face various threats, from climate change to invasive species to encroaching civilization. If we hope to protect these systems and the species that live in them, we must understand them -- an extremely difficult and time-consuming task, given the world's seemingly endless number of ecosystems, each with its own complex dynamics and relationships.

But what if we could pinpoint the most powerful players in a given food web, those "keystone" species without which the entire ecosystem would collapse? And what if we could predict how changes to one ecosystem would affect its various organisms based on data collected from another ecosystem half a world away?

Researchers from Northwestern University, with partners from New Zealand's University of Canterbury and the Spanish Research Council, say we can. Their research has revealed commonalities about species' roles in food webs that could hold the key to preservation of ecological communities worldwide.

The paper, "Evolutionary Conservation of Species' Roles in Food Webs," was published March 23 in the journal Science.

By studying the roles played by species in 32 ecological communities, the researchers found a species' role, or importance, in its food web isn't dependent upon its geographic location or even which species are present. Instead, a species' importance depends upon the type of species it is and its evolutionary history.

"The gray wolf, for instance, is a keystone species," said Irmak Sirer, a PhD candidate in the lab of Luis Amaral, professor of chemical and biological engineering at McCormick. "When the wolves disappeared from Yellowstone National Park for 70 years, a broad array of species bottomed out. When they were reintroduced in 1995, willows, songbirds, beavers, and many other species suddenly flourished."

"Based on our research, we now know that other species with a similar evolutionary history to this wolf hold equally important roles in their own food webs -- even if they are on a different continent and look nothing alike," Sirer added. "And we know they must be protected to avoid further ecological damage."

The authors compared species found in New Zealand with their closely-related species found elsewhere. "We tend to think of ecosystems from New Zealand to be completely different to their foreign counterparts because, at least to the naked eye, they are," said lead author Daniel Stouffer, a researcher at the University of Canterbury who received his PhD in chemical and biological engineering from Northwestern.

However, the researchers found that species from the most important taxonomic groups in New Zealand also tended to be the most important elsewhere, and that their roles may be a direct result of evolution.

This knowledge allows conservationists to focus their efforts on the most vital parts of an ecosystem, while also predicting what species might be threatened by changes like invasive species or climbing temperatures.

"Because this is a universal result, we can start developing methods of conservation that would apply to any food web," Sirer said. "This might be one of the first steps toward global conservation efforts."

Other authors of the paper are Marta Sales-Pardo, a former Northwestern post-doctoral researcher now at Universitat Rovira I Virgili in Tarragona, Spain,and Jordi Bascompte of the Estacion Biologica de Donana in Seville, Spain.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. The original article was written by Sarah Ostman. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. D. B. Stouffer, M. Sales-Pardo, M. I. Sirer, J. Bascompte. Evolutionary Conservation of Species' Roles in Food Webs. Science, 2012; 335 (6075): 1489 DOI: 10.1126/science.1216556

Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Drawing connections between food webs: Universal truths about species' roles uncovered." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 April 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120404161947.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2012, April 4). Drawing connections between food webs: Universal truths about species' roles uncovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120404161947.htm
Northwestern University. "Drawing connections between food webs: Universal truths about species' roles uncovered." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120404161947.htm (accessed September 1, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Monday, September 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Iceland Lowers Aviation Alert on Volcano

Iceland Lowers Aviation Alert on Volcano

AFP (Sep. 1, 2014) Iceland has lowered its aviation alert on its largest volcano after a fresh eruption on a nearby lava field prompted authorities to enforce a flight ban for several hours. Duration: 01:07 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Lightning Hurts 3 on NYC Beach

Lightning Hurts 3 on NYC Beach

AP (Sep. 1, 2014) A lightning strike injured three people on a New York City beach on Sunday. The storms also delayed flights and interrupted play at the US Open tennis tournament. (Sept. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thailand Totters Towards Waste Crisis

Thailand Totters Towards Waste Crisis

AFP (Sep. 1, 2014) Fears are mounting in Bangkok that poor planning and lax law enforcement are tipping Thailand towards a waste crisis. Duration: 01:21 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Melting Ice Shelves Drive Rapid Antarctic Sea Level Rise

Melting Ice Shelves Drive Rapid Antarctic Sea Level Rise

Newsy (Sep. 1, 2014) A study of almost 20 years' worth of satellite images shows Antarctic sea levels are on the rise as ice shelves continue to melt. Video provided by Newsy
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