Tag Archives: biodiversity

Simulating the Evolution of Life in South America

Modeling the ecology and evolution of biodiversity: Biogeographical cradles, museums, and graves (2018) Rangel et al., Science, 244, DOI: 10.1126/science.aar5452

The Crux

Understanding the processes which drive biodiversity worldwide is never more crucial than now, in a world where biodiversity is shrinking rapidly. Biogeography, the study of species distributions, has come a long way, but there are still a lot of problems that need solving, including improving our understanding of the interactions between factors like climate change, dispersal abilities, fragmentation and species competition, to name a few.

This paper attempted to analyse some of the effects of those factors in concert, by producing a simulation of the evolutionary process in the world’s most biologically diverse continent, South America.

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Restoring Biodiversity Through Species Interactions

When species like this toucanet are lost, the interactions that they are a part of are lost too. So how can we restore them? (Image Credit: Jairmoreirafotografia, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Estimating interaction credit for trophic rewilding in tropical forests (2018) Marjakangas, E.-L. et al., Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of Biology, 373, https://dx.doi/10.1098/rstb.2017.0435

The Crux

We have reviewed more than enough papers on biodiversity loss to entitle us to skip the whole “losing species is bad” spiel (see here, here and here). But what we haven’t talked about is that when some species are lost, specific interactions that those species participate in disappear from an ecosystem. Those interactions range from the minute to the crucial. One such crucial example is that of seed dispersal, whereby specific plants rely on specific animals to disperse their seeds, thus maximising biodiversity in other parts of the forest and creating a positive feedback loop.

Naturally, conservationists will want to reintroduce animals to propagate some of these reactions. But as is always the case in conservation, maximising return is absolutely essential when you’re faced with limited resources and a lot of ground to cover. Today’s authors wanted to develop a system for maximising the effect of species reintroduction.

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Sean Connolly: The Future of the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef has experienced mass mortality in recent years. But can we save it, and how do we impose the severity of its condition on the public?

The Great Barrier Reef has experienced mass mortality in recent years. But can we save it, and how do we impose the severity of its condition on the public? (Image Credit: Kyle Taylor, CC BY 2.0)

When I was a child, I was dragged around my home country of Australia on a family holiday. After days stuck in a back seat fighting with my sister we reached Cairns, and spent a day on the Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia’s premier tourist attractions and a biodiversity hotspot, home to a myriad of corals, fish and other marine life. It was incredible.

But nowadays, tourists are flocking to the reef to say goodbye. Extreme weather events in 2016 and 2017 left a massive portion of the reef (whose lagoon is the size of Italy) completely bleached, with coral dying at unprecedented rates.

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Why Defining Biodiversity Matters in an Ecosystem

Forests such as Białowieska in Poland perform a wide range of functions, but if its biodiversity rises, how will this change?

Forests such as Białowieska in Poland perform a wide range of functions, but if its biodiversity rises, how will this change? (Image Credit: Jacek Karczmarz, CC A 3.0)

Biotic homogenization can decrease landscape/scale forest multifunctionality (2016) von der Plas et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113

The Crux

Any ecosystem performs a multitude of functions, benefiting both the species that live in it and the humans who interact with it, from litter decomposition to resistance of drought to timber production. As such, maintaining high levels of ecosystems is a well-studied concept, and it has been posited that high levels of biodiversity increase the levels functions an ecosystem can perform, or its multifunctionality.

But while the word biodiversity is recklessly bandied about these days, scientifically it’s a somewhat vague term. At an ecosystem level, you may have patches of very high local (or alpha) diversity, but the turnover of species between patches (beta diversity) might be quite low. The variation in types of biodiversity may influence your ecosystem multifunctionality. For instance, patches of high alpha diversity might lead to high levels of functionality in some patches, but little functionality elsewhere, whereas high levels of beta diversity may lead to low levels of functionality, but many functions. This paper investigates relationships between different biodiversity levels and ecosystem multifunctionality.

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