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Tale of 2 scientific fields -- ecology and phylogenetics -- offers new views of Earth's biodiversity
Date:8/6/2012

Patterns in nature are in everything from ocean currents to a flower's petal.

Scientists are taking a new look at Earth patterns, studying the biodiversity of yard plants in the U.S. and that of desert mammals in Israel, studying where flowers and bees live on the Tibetan plateau and how willow trees in America's Midwest make use of water.

They're finding that ecology, the study of relationships between living organisms and their environment, and phylogenetics, research on evolutionary relationships among groups of organisms, are inextricably intertwined.

Results of this tale of two fields are highlighted in a special, August 2012 issue of the journal Ecology, published by the Ecological Society of America (ESA). Most of the results reported are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The issue will be released at the annual ESA meeting, held this year from August 5-10 in Portland, Ore.

Melding information from ecology and phylogenetics allows scientists to understand why plants and animals are distributed in certain patterns across landscapes, how these species adapt to changing environments across evolutionary time--and where their populations may be faltering.

"To understand the here and now, ecologists need more knowledge of the past," says Saran Twombly, program director in NSF's Division of Environmental Biology. "Incorporating evolutionary history and phylogenies into studies of community ecology is revealing complex feedbacks between ecological and evolutionary processes."

Maureen Kearney, also a program director in NSF's Division of Environmental Biology adds, "Recent studies have demonstrated that species' evolutionary histories can have profound effects on the contemporary structure and composition of ecological communities."

In the face of rapid changes in Earth's biota, understanding the evolutionary processes that drive patterns of species diversity and coex
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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