A new study led by University of Minnesota researchers demonstrates that fertilization of natural grasslands -- either intentionally or unintentionally as a side effect of global farming and industry -- is having a destabilizing effect on global grassland ecosystems. Using a network of natural grassland research sites around the world called the Nutrient Network, the study represents the first time such a large experiment has been conducted using naturally occurring sites.
Led by Yann Hautier, a Marie Curie Fellow associated with both the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the University of Minnesota and the Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich, the research team included U of M associate professors Eric Seabloom and Elizabeth Borer, and research scientist Eric Lind, along with scientists from institutions around the world including Andy Hector at Oxford University's Department of Plant Sciences. The findings were published on February 16 in the journal Nature.
The researchers found that plant diversity in natural ecosystems creates more stable ecosystems over time because of less synchronized growth of plants. "This is sometimes called the portfolio effect," says Seabloom. "If you have money in two investments and they're both stocks, they're going to track each other, but if one is a stock and one is a bond, they're going to respond differently to the overall economy and are more likely to balance each other."
The researchers collected plants from each of the sites, then sorted, dried, and weighed them to monitor the number of species of plants and total amount of plants, or "biomass," grown over time. They used this information to quantify species diversity and ecosystem stability. Says Hautier: "It was really striking to see the relationship between diversity and stability" and the similarities to data collected from artificial grasslands as part of a research effort call
|Contact: Stephanie Xenos|
University of Minnesota