Loss of plant diversity ‘disrupting Earth’s life-support systems’

March 8th, 2011 - 5:44 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Mar 8 (ANI): Plant communities-threatened by development, invasive species, climate change, and other factors-provide humans with food, help purify water supplies, generate oxygen, and supply raw materials for building, clothing, paper, and other products.

However, a new study has suggested that the loss of plant biodiversity is disrupting the fundamental services that ecosystems provide to humanity.

Researchers, led by Prof Brad Cardinale of the University of Michigan, analysed the results of 574 field and laboratory studies-conducted across 5 continents during the last 2 decades-that measured the changes in productivity resulting from loss of plants species.

“The idea that declining diversity compromises the functioning of ecosystems was controversial for many years,” said Emmett Duffy of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

“This paper should be the final nail in the coffin of that controversy. It’s the most rigorous and comprehensive analysis yet, and it clearly shows that extinction of plant species compromises the productivity that supports Earth’s ecosystems,” he added.

The team’s analysis showed that plant communities with many different species are nearly 1.5 times more productive than those with only one species (such as a cornfield or carefully tended lawn), and ongoing research finds even stronger benefits of diversity when the various other important natural services of ecosystems are considered.

Diverse communities are also more efficient at capturing nutrients, light, and other limiting resources.

The analysis also suggested, based on laboratory studies of algae, that diverse plant communities generate oxygen-and take-up carbon dioxide-more than twice as fast as plant monocultures.

The team’s findings are consistent for plant communities both on land and in fresh and saltwater, suggesting that plant biodiversity is of general and fundamental importance to the functioning of the Earth’s entire biosphere.

The study appears in the March special biodiversity issue of the American Journal of Botany. (ANI)

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