Nav: Home

Biodiversity can also destabilize ecosystems

October 18, 2018

Ecosystems have a variety of benefits: They provide us with food, water and other resources, as well as recreational space. It is therefore even more important that these systems remain functional and stable - especially in view of climate change or environmental pollution. Ecologists at the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) have now examined the factors that influence this stability in a unique and comprehensive experiment.

Mini-ecosystems with ciliates

The scientists specifically researched how biodiversity affects the stability of ecosystems. As model organisms, they used six species of ciliates - tiny protozoans that live in water. The researchers put varying numbers and combinations of these ciliates in sample vials, thereby creating miniature ecosystems that they then let thrive at temperatures between 15 and 25 degrees Celsius. The increased temperatures simulated a climatic change, as the ciliates used in the experiment previously lived at a temperature of 15 degrees Celsius.

The researchers then used novel video evaluation techniques to analyze how stable the biomass production in these small ecosystems was. An algorithm developed by the team made it possible to identify the ciliate species in about 20,000 video sequences of the numerous samples recorded under a microscope.

Contrary results

At first glance, the results of the experiment seem contradictory: High biodiversity simultaneously furthers and hinders the stability of an ecosystem. "Ecological stability is complex and consists of various components," says Frank Pennekamp, first author of the study. "The experiment shows how biodiversity affects the individual stability components in different ways." In other words, the more diverse the species community in the miniature ecosystems was, the less the biomass production fluctuated - regardless of temperature. At higher temperatures, however, the researchers found that protozoans produced less biomass the more species were bustling about the system.

"The fact that various components react differently should be taken into consideration in the management of ecosystems, as non-linear connections may occur between diversity and the overall stability of the ecosystem depending on the weighting of the components," says Pennekamp.

Similar effects observed in other ecosystems

Literature research showed that other scientists also observe the contrary connection between biodiversity and stability in other ecosystems, such as grassland or algae communities. "The results make it clear that more species alone is not enough to ensure the overall stability of an ecosystem," says Florian Altermatt, professor of aquatic ecology at Eawag. "In addition to a diversity of species, the species themselves must be able to react to environmental changes in a variety of ways."
-end-
Literature:

Frank Pennekamp, Mikael Pontarp, Andrea Tabi, Florian Altermatt, Roman Alther, Yves Choffat, Emanuel A. Fronhofer, Pravin Ganesanandamoorthy, Aurélie Garnier, Jason I. Griffiths, Suzanne Greene, Katherine Horgan, Thomas M. Massie, Elvira Mächler, Gian-Marco Palamara, Mathew Seymour, and Owen L. Petchey. Biodiversity increases and decreases ecosystem stability. Nature. October 17, 2018. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0627-8

University of Zurich

Related Climate Change Articles:

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
Historical climate important for soil responses to future climate change
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Amsterdam, examined how 18 years of drought affect the billions of vital bacteria that are hidden in the soil beneath our feet.
Can forests save us from climate change?
Additional climate benefits through sustainable forest management will be modest and local rather than global.
From crystals to climate: 'Gold standard' timeline links flood basalts to climate change
Princeton geologists used tiny zircon crystals found in volcanic ash to rewrite the timeline for the eruptions of the Columbia River flood basalts, a series of massive lava flows that coincided with an ancient global warming period 16 million years ago.
Think pink for a better view of climate change
A new study says pink noise may be the key to separating out natural climate variability from climate change that is influenced by human activity.
Climate taxes on agriculture could lead to more food insecurity than climate change itself
New IIASA-led research has found that a single climate mitigation scheme applied to all sectors, such as a global carbon tax, could have a serious impact on agriculture and result in far more widespread hunger and food insecurity than the direct impacts of climate change.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#540 Specialize? Or Generalize?
Ever been called a "jack of all trades, master of none"? The world loves to elevate specialists, people who drill deep into a single topic. Those people are great. But there's a place for generalists too, argues David Epstein. Jacks of all trades are often more successful than specialists. And he's got science to back it up. We talk with Epstein about his latest book, "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.