The study, conducted by researchers at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, comes out this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It looks at the relationship between grasshoppers and spiders—herbivores and predators in the study's food chain—and how it affects the movement of carbon through a grassland ecosystem.
Carbon, the basic building block of all organic tissue, moves through the food chain at varying speeds depending on whether it's being consumed or being stored in the bodies of plants. However, this pathway is seldom looked at in terms of specific animal responses like fear from predation.
"We're discovering that predators are having important effects on shaping the make-up of ecosystems," says Dr. Oswald Schmitz, professor of ecology and one of the co-authors of the study. "But we've not really spent a lot of time measuring how that translates into other functions like nutrient cycling and recycling."
The researchers manipulated the food chains of grassland ecosystem to see how the levels of carbon would change over time. Dr. Schmitz and his team created several controlled ecosystems: some that contained only native grasses and herbs, others that had plants and an herbivore grasshopper, and some others that had plants and herbivores along with a carnivore spider species—all three tiers of the food chain. In addition, a form of traceable carbon dioxide was injected into sample cages covered with Plexiglas, which allowed the team to track the carbon levels by periodically taking leaf, root, and dead animal samples.
The study found that the presence of spiders drove up the rate of carbon uptake by the plants by about 1.4 times more than when just grasshoppers were present and by 1.2 more times than when no animals were present. It was also revealed that the pattern of carbon storage in the plants changed when both herbivores and carnivores were present. The grasshoppers apparently were afraid of being eaten by the spiders and consumed less plant matter when the predators were around. The grasshoppers also shifted towards eating more herbs instead of grass under fearful scenarios.
At the same time, the grasses stored more carbon in their roots in a response to being disturbed at low levels when both herbivores and carnivores were present. In cases where only herbivores were present, the plants stored less carbon overall, likely due to the more intense eating habits of the herbivores that put pressure on plants to reduce their storage and breathe out carbon more. These stress impacts, then, caused both the plants and the herbivores to change their behaviors and change the composition of their local environment.
This has significance for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management. Although the study was carried out on a small scale, it could inform practices done in much larger areas. Places such as the Alaskan wilderness, for example, are home to animals that have the same predator-and-prey dynamics that drive the carbon cycle, and so protecting lands and storing carbon could be linked at the same time. Appreciating the role of predators is also important currently, given that top predators are declining at rates faster than that of many other species in global trends of biodiversity loss.
"It's going to force some thinking about the vital roles of animals in regulating carbon," concludes Dr. Schmitz, pointing to the fact that the UN's body of scientific experts who study climate change don't consider these multiplier effects in their models. "People are arguing for a paradigm change."
Oswald Schmitz | EurekAlert!
Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont
Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.
Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
09.12.2016 | Life Sciences
09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine