Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Biodiversity helps protect nature against human impacts

Date:
February 6, 2013
Source:
University of Guelph
Summary:
New research suggests farmers and resource managers should not rely on seemingly stable but vulnerable single-crop monocultures. Instead they should encourage more kinds of plants in fields and woods as a buffer against sudden ecosystem disturbance.

Single-crop monoculture of corn. "You don't know what you've got 'til it's collapsed." That's how integrative biologists might recast a line from an iconic folk tune for their new research paper warning about the perils of ecosystem breakdown. Their research suggests farmers and resource managers should not rely on seemingly stable but vulnerable single-crop monocultures. Instead they should encourage more kinds of plants in fields and woods as a buffer against sudden ecosystem disturbance.
Credit: © rsooll / Fotolia

"You don't know what you've got 'til it's collapsed." That's how University of Guelph integrative biologists might recast a line from an iconic folk tune for their new research paper warning about the perils of ecosystem breakdown.

Their research, published February 6 as the cover story in Nature, suggests farmers and resource managers should not rely on seemingly stable but vulnerable single-crop monocultures. Instead they should encourage more kinds of plants in fields and woods as a buffer against sudden ecosystem disturbance.

Based on a 10-year study, their paper also lends scientific weight to esthetic and moral arguments for maintaining species biodiversity.

The study was written by Profs. Andrew MacDougall and Kevin McCann, graduate student Gabriel Gellner and Roy Turkington, a botany professor and member of the Biodiversity Research Centre at the University of British Columbia.

Their research confirms that having lots of species in an area helps ecosystems avoid irreversible collapse after human disturbances such as climate change or pest invasion.

"Species are more important than we think," said MacDougall. "We need to protect biodiversity."

Unlike other scientists usually relying on short-term, artificial study plots, the researchers studied long-standing pasture grasslands on southern Vancouver Island for 10 years. The 10-hectare site owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada consists of oak savannah where fires have been suppressed for about 150 years.

The team selectively burned plots to compare areas of mostly grasses with areas of mixed grasses and diverse native plants.

They found that seemingly stable grassland plots collapsed in one growing season and were subsequently invaded by trees. More diverse sites resisted woody plant invasion.

Diversity also affected fire itself. More diverse areas had less persistent ground litter, making high-intensity fires less likely to recur than in single-species grasslands with more litter serving as fuel.

MacDougall said the study supports resource management strategies that increase biodiversity on land and in aquatic ecosystems. A monoculture stand of trees or crops might appear stable and productive, for example -- but it's an ecosystem that is more vulnerable to collapse, he said, adding that this study helps explain why species diversity matters.

McCann, who studies food webs and ecosystem stability, said many ecosystems are at a "tipping point," including grasslands that may easily become either woodlands or deserts.

"They're a really productive ecosystem that produces year in and year out and seems stable and then suddenly a major perturbation happens, and all of that biodiversity that was lost earlier is important now," said McCann.

MacDougall has studied the Vancouver Island site since 2000. European settlers planted grasslands there in the mid-1800s.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Guelph. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. A. S. MacDougall, K. S. McCann, G. Gellner, R. Turkington. Diversity loss with persistent human disturbance increases vulnerability to ecosystem collapse. Nature, 2013; 494 (7435): 86 DOI: 10.1038/nature11869

Cite This Page:

University of Guelph. "Biodiversity helps protect nature against human impacts." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 February 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130206131052.htm>.
University of Guelph. (2013, February 6). Biodiversity helps protect nature against human impacts. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130206131052.htm
University of Guelph. "Biodiversity helps protect nature against human impacts." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130206131052.htm (accessed April 23, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

California Drought Is Good News for Gold Prospectors

California Drought Is Good News for Gold Prospectors

AFP (Apr. 22, 2014) — For months California has suffered from a historic drought. The lack of water is worrying for farmers and ranchers, but for gold diggers it’s a stroke of good fortune. With water levels low, normally inaccessible areas are exposed. Duration: 01:57 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: MN Lakes Still Frozen Before Fishing Opener

Raw: MN Lakes Still Frozen Before Fishing Opener

AP (Apr. 22, 2014) — With only three weeks until Minnesota's fishing opener, many are wondering if the ice will be gone. Some of the Northland lakes are still covered by up to three feet of ice, causing concern that just like last year, the lakes won't be ready. (April 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Warn Of Likely El Niño Event This Year

Scientists Warn Of Likely El Niño Event This Year

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) — With Pacific ocean water already showing signs of warming, the NOAA says there's about a 66 percent chance the event will begin before November. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Is North Korea Planning Nuclear Test #4?

Is North Korea Planning Nuclear Test #4?

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) — South Korean officials say North Korea is preparing to conduct another nuclear test, but is Pyongyang just bluffing this time? 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