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Stanford scientists document fragile land-sea ecological chain
Date:5/18/2012

rchers showed that replacing native trees with non-native palms led to about five times fewer roosting seabirds (they seemed to dislike palms' simple and easily wind-swayed canopies), which led to fewer bird droppings to fertilize the soil below, fewer nutrients washing into surrounding waters, smaller and fewer plankton in the water and fewer hungry manta rays cruising the coastline.

"This is an incredible cascade," said researcher Rodolfo Dirzo, a senior fellow with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "As an ecologist, I am worried about the extinction of ecological processes."

Equally important is what the study suggests about these cascades going largely unseen. "Such connections do not leave any trace behind," said researcher Fiorenza Micheli, an associate professor of biology affiliated with the Stanford Woods Institute. "Their loss largely goes unnoticed, limiting our understanding of and ability to protect natural ecosystems." McCauley put it another way: "What we are doing in some ecosystems is akin to popping the hood on a car and disconnecting a few wires and rerouting a few hoses. All the parts are still there the engine looks largely the same but it's anyone's guess as to how or if the car will run."

By way of comparison, researcher Robert Dunbar, a Stanford Woods Institute senior fellow, recalled the historical chain effects of increasing demands on water from Central California's rivers. When salmon runs in these rivers slowed from millions of fish each year to a trickle, natural and agricultural land systems lost an important source of marine-derived fertilizer. These lost subsidies from the sea are now replaced by millions of dollars' worth of artificial fertilizer applications. "Humans can really snip one of these chains in half," Dunbar said.


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Contact: Rob Jordan
rjordan@stanford.edu
650-721-1881
Stanford University
Source:Eurekalert  

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