IS BIODIVERSITY AND ECOSYSTEM FUNCTION? >>>
There is little doubt that we are on the cusp of a biodiversity
crisis brought about by human activity at the global scale.
- Current rates of species extinctions are approaching
and may even exceed those seen during previous periods
of mass extinctions such as the one in which the dinosaurs
disappeared. While previous periods of mass extinctions
have been linked to dramatic events such as large asteroids
crashing into earth, the
current spate of extinctions is due largely to human activities
such as land-use change, over-exploitation, and climate
- Even where species are not being driven extinct, human
accelerated environmental changes such as global warming,
climate change, increased nitrogen deposition, acid rain
and land-use change are radically changing the face of
the planet. Every species on the planet is likely to respond
to these changes to some degree. Some species may dramatically
increase in abundance, some may be driven to the brink
of extinction, while others may shift their distribution
to find more suitable environmental conditions.
- Human activity has also resulted in the transportation
of species from their native ranges and introduction into
new environments at such a massive scale that some scientists
have termed this era the Homogocene.
While most species that are introduced into new environments
end up having little effect, some become noxious pests
that have been estimated to cost
the US economy more that $100 billion a year.
While predicting exactly what biodiversity will look like
over the coming years is difficult, the end result will
inevitable be ecosystems that are functioning with a very
different assemblage of organisms. Ecosystems consist of
groups of organisms interacting with their abiotic environment,
and they perform many functions that are critical for maintaining
the conditions that allow for life to occur. Plants and
other autotrophs (such as algae in the oceans) are responsible
for transforming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into
the usable forms of carbon that serve as the building blocks
for life using energy from sunlight. In addition to sitting
at the bottom of the food chain that supplies energy to
all other organisms on the planet, plants have the potential
to act as a "carbon sink," sucking up and storing
excess carbon dioxide produced by human activities and moderating
climate change. Animals consume the plants, and in turn
provide numerous services to humans including as food, pollination,
pest control, and transportation. Millions of species of
bacteria and fungi play a critical role in breaking down
dead material and reprocessing the nutrients to make them
available for plants to continue growing.
IS IT IMPORTANT? >>>
One can think of an ecosystem like an extremely complex machine
with millions of parts, each part representing a different
species. One of the critical questions that concerns ecologists
today is trying to understand how such a machine might function
in light of the coming biodiversity crisis. If you lifted
up the hood of your car and started taking out some parts,
moving others around, and adding a couple of extra belts and
valves, you probably wouldn't be to happy with the result.
Some functions, perhaps your radio, might continue to work,
others might immediately stop working, and others might continue
to run but be less reliable. While there are many obvious
differences between an ecosystem and an automobile, this analogy
gives an idea of what the science of Biodiveristy and ecosystem
function is trying to understand.
BioMERGE is a group of scientist who are all looking at different
aspects of biodiversity and ecosystem function research and
who have come together to build a broader and more synthetic
vision of this crucial and rapidly changing field of ecology.
We are collectively examining the results of numerous studies
that have shown that varying biodiversity can have profound
effects on ecosystem functions such as primary productivity,
nutrient cycling, and decomposition and determining how to
apply the results of the studies in a general manner. We are
also setting a research agenda by examining where the critical
gaps lie in our current understanding of how biodiversity
is affected by various drivers and how changes in biodiversity
might affect ecosystem functioning. To accomplish these goals
requires bringing together scientists from a diverse range
of biological disciplines including systematics, evolutionary
biology, population biology, community ecology, ecosystems
biologists, and biogeochemists.
PUBLIC INPUT >>>
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your questions, comments and input to add to this page.
From Nature online publication, "Nature
Ecologists Oversold Biodiversity? Some scientists question
experiments on how numerous species help ecosystems".
From the Chronicle of Higher Education.
and Ecosystem Function: The Debate Deepens" (excerpts),
J. P. Grime,
Science, August 29, 1997
is biodiversity and why is it important?" according
to the Ecological Society of America
and ecosystem function: An issue in ecology" Wardle
et al., Bulletin of the Ecological Socitiety of America,