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Precedent-setting evidence of the benefits of biodiversity
Date:4/6/2011

wer of streams. According to the study, as algae grow in streams and produce more biomass, they incorporate into their bodies some common forms of pollution and thereby remove it from the water. Each species of pollution-removing algae has evolved and adapted to a different set of conditions, and so occupies a unique mini habitat, or niche, within a water body. Therefore, as the number of species of pollution-removing algae increases in a stream, so too does the number of unique niches that are occupied, filtered and cleansed by them. Hence: the more algae species a stream has, the more total pollutants these organisms may remove from the water.

"As the different habitats in a stream are filled by diverse populations of algae, the stream receives more total biofiltration," said Cardinale. "It's as if the algae work as a better sponge."

"Algae are the sort of thing that are easily overlooked, however Cardinale provides an elegant experiment that shows how the biological diversity of algal species greatly increases the removal of one of the most deadly and insidious toxins in our streams, lakes and rivers," said George W. Gilchrist, a program director in NSF's Division of Environmental Biology.

The process by which species evolve to inhabit their own, unique habitats is known as niche partitioning. "People as far back as Darwin have argued that species should have unique niches, and as a result, we should see a division of labor in the environment," Cardinale said. "But demonstrating that directly has proven very difficult."

The varied types of habitats that may exist within any particular stream include, for example, areas where water flows swiftly vs. areas where water flows slowly.

Study design

Cardinale began his study by growing from one to eight species of algae that are common to North America in each of 150 miniature model streams; each model stream was designed to mimic the varied flow conditions th
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Contact: Lily Whiteman
lwhitema@nsf.gov
703-292-8310
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert

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