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Over the hump: Ecologists use power of network science to challenge long-held theory

is so weak?' they asked me," he says. "That was the kick I needed to pursue this question."

The challenge was daunting.

Existing, disparate case studies couldn't conclusively support Grime's unimodal pattern. Inconsistencies in data collection methods further hampered efforts to distill evidence to support the hump-shaped model. So Adler and fellow ecologists formed the Nutrient Network, or "NutNet," an NSF Research Coordination Network dedicated to investigating biodiversity and ecosystem processes in grasslands around the world.>Based at the University of Minnesota (UMN), the network is funded by an NSF grant to network organizers and UMN scientists Elizabeth Borer and Eric Seabloom.

"Our work not only sheds light on this classic question, it also demonstrates the power of a network approach," Borer says. "NutNet data are poised to inform many pressing ecological questions. Similar global, grassroots collaborations could help settle other longstanding scientific debates."

Says Gholz, "Research Coordination Networks are designed to facilitate these types of insights into the functioning of nature, insights that aren't possible in a focus on individual ecosystems."

Adler says that NutNet's data "emphasize the need to consider many factors to explain patterns of diversity--not just productivity alone."

NutNet's findings should spur ecologists to focus on other important factors regulating biodiversity, he says, such as evolutionary history, disturbance and resource supply.

"It's time to remove outdated models from our textbooks and concentrate on more sophisticated approaches," Adler says,"That will improve our ability to predict the effects of environmental change on biodiversity."

Contact: Cheryl Dybas
National Science Foundation

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