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Loss of plant diversity threatens Earth's life-support systems
Date:3/7/2011

An international team of researchers including professor Emmett Duffy of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science has published a comprehensive new analysis showing that loss of plant biodiversity disrupts the fundamental services that ecosystems provide to humanity.

Plant communitiesthreatened by development, invasive species, climate change, and other factorsprovide humans with food, help purify water supplies, generate oxygen, and supply raw materials for building, clothing, paper, and other products.

The 9-member research team, led by professor Brad Cardinale of the University of Michigan, analyzed the results of 574 field and laboratory studiesconducted across 5 continents during the last 2 decadesthat measured the changes in productivity resulting from loss of plants species. This type of "meta-analysis" allows researchers to move beyond their own individual or collaborative studies to get a much more reliable global picture. Their study appears in the March special biodiversity issue of the American Journal of Botany.

"The idea that declining diversity compromises the functioning of ecosystems was controversial for many years," says Duffy, a marine ecologist who has studied the effects of biodiversity loss in seagrass beds. "This paper should be the final nail in the coffin of that controversy. It's the most rigorous and comprehensive analysis yet, and it clearly shows that extinction of plant species compromises the productivity that supports Earth's ecosystems."

The team's analysis shows that plant communities with many different species are nearly 1.5 times more productive than those with only one species (such as a cornfield or carefully tended lawn), and ongoing research finds even stronger benefits of diversity when the various other important natural services of ecosystems are considered. Diverse communities are also more efficient at capturing nutrients, light, and other limiting resources.

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Contact: Emmett Duffy
jeduffy@vims.edu
804-684-7369
Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Source:Eurekalert  

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