A study financed by the BBVA Foundation and conducted by scientists Carlos Duarte, Nuria Agust and Nuria Marb from the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (CSIC University of the Balearic Islands) has allowed the first-time formulation of a universal rule that explains the equilibrium of plant communities, showing how plants assure the survival of their species whether their lives last a day or are prolonged over centuries.
The research project, whose results will appear in the next issue of the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, also concludes that the life span of these organisms may be sensitive to rises in temperature. According to the authors predictions, the mortality of plants could increase by 40% if land temperatures rise by up to 4C (the rate of increase projected for the 21st century by climate change prediction models).
The reasons why organisms cease functioning and die is still one of the big questions for science. Some trees live for centuries while the smallest herbs last no more than a few months. However, there is no real reason why herbs should not, in theory, live as long as trees, given that all photosynthetic organisms plants can live indefinitely in the absence of disturbances.
The authors of the BBVA Foundation study examined the mortality and population growth rates of 700 phototrophs, ranging from the very smallest the cells of the marine photosynthetic cyanobacteria Prochloroccocus (just half a micrometer across yet responsible for a considerable fraction of marine photosynthesis) up to the largest species of trees, in search of general rules conducive to an improved understanding of plant life span regulation.
The results of the study identify phytoplankton as the shortest lived beings, with a span of around one day, while some trees reach ages of a thousand years. This was possible thanks to a methodology developed by Susana Agust, using techniques that ha
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