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Ancient pollen yields insight into forest biodiversity

region, some species tend to be more abundant and some species less abundant. Our study doesn't identify what those stabilizing forces are, but it clearly shows they do not arise from neutral dynamics." Indeed, said Clark, a major challenge for ecologists is to attempt to understand what the stabilizing forces are in forest biodiversity.

"Ecologists have devoted a lot of research to that understanding, but substantial challenges remain," said Clark.

"A long-held view that there are tradeoffs among species, in which each has a unique set of competitive advantages and disadvantages that determines its abundance, is often not supported by data."

"What we are seeing is huge variability within populations," said Clark. "And this variability means they overlap in ways that determines who's going to win and who's going to lose. And that variability might itself represent a stabilizing mechanism."

Clark emphasized, however, that even though the role of stabilizing mechanisms remains unknown, the results from his and McLachlan's studies offer cautionary lessons.

"Our findings suggest that forest biodiversity has probably been stabilized in some important ways, so extinction of species should cause us greater concern than if we believed that biodiversity was maintained in the past by continual replenishment of random extinction by generation of new species," he said.

"So, there's a lot for ecologists to do to really understand the extent to which differences among species are responsible for diversity."


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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
4-Jun-2003


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