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A big lesson from the reef
Date:5/7/2009

The lesson from Australia's Great Barrier Reef is that we have to protect its biodiversity because biodiversity in turn protects us.

That's the message from Professor Sean Connolly from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University who today receives the Australian Academy of Science's prestigious Fenner medal for his pioneering work in understanding how ecosystems develop and maintain their amazing diversity.

"The Great Barrier Reef is one of the richest systems of living things on the Planet. Understanding how it became so rich, and how to keep it that way, is essential for its survival as well as for all our industries and activities that depend upon the Reef," he says.

Prof. Connolly says his research shows that that species diversity lies at the heart of stable ecosystems.

Since ecosystems help to support humanity in many ways with food, clean air and water as well as livelihoods, industries and recreation keeping them in a condition to continue to support us is vital, he argues.

"As a rule, ecosystems with many species are more stable over time. This is because, as conditions change, the system is more likely to have species that can cope with the new conditions. Having lots of species reduces the likelihood of a major ecological collapse.

"In other words, high biodiversity is nature's insurance policy."

"But it is also our insurance policy, because it protects and assures the many services that ecosystems provide us."

Prof. Connolly says that the many rare species the GBR contains make the system more robust overall. "If conditions change, then common species may become rare and rare species common but the system as a whole survives. It's very much on our interest to manage and care for it so this keeps on happening."

Prof. Connolly has specialized in linking observations and experiments in marine ecosystems with mathematical models of
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Contact: Sean Connolly
Sean.Connolly@jcu.edu.au
041-942-2815
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies
Source:Eurekalert

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