Wildlife variety is the spice of life, say scientists

Biodiversity is more than just a pretty face - it has an important role in the workings of the living world say results published in Nature today by scientists in the UK and France.

They find that the specialisation of different plant species to different roles fundamentally affects the way that ecosystems work, suggesting a new reason to conserve a variety of species.

A new analysis of the results of a wide-ranging ecological experiment across Europe, named the BIODEPTH project (2), shows that communities of plants grow better when they consist of teams of species that are complementary to one another.

Early results from the project showed that harvest yields were higher when a range of plant species were grown together, but could not explain why this occurred.

The new analysis reveals that complementary interactions between species appear to play a stronger role than selection effects (where dominance by species with particular traits affects ecosystem processes).

In the real world this could mean that the amount of energy turned into plant life - the productivity of an ecosystem - also declines when species are missing.

This new appraisal of the BIODEPTH data represents the latest development in a scientific debate about how the loss of biodiversity affects the way in which ecosystems work.

It may help recent efforts among ecologists to reach a consensus in that debate, as it demonstrates that both numbers of different plants and their types (3) play important roles in ecosystems through their individual characteristics and the ways they interact with one another.

Dr Andy Hector of the NERC Centre for Population Biology at Imperial College, London, and co-author of the report, said:

"Our research shows biodiversity is not just a pretty face - it can also affect the way the environment works.

Previous justifications for conserving biodiversity have taken in aesthetic and ethical re

Contact: Tom Miller
Imperial College London

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