Tag Archives: biodiversity

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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