Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Topography shapes biodiversity, and not only through temperature

02.02.2016

A warming climate is likely to drive species to higher, cooler altitudes. A new study highlights a less obvious, yet crucial way in which their new habitat could differ from the one they leave behind.

Mountains are home to many living species, with biodiversity typically peaking at mid-altitudes. Scientists have long struggled to explain why this is the case, invoking factors such as low temperatures at high elevations or human disturbance further down.


Mutually isolated mountain peaks and valleys (gray/white) and much more connected mid-altitudes (yellow-red gradient).

Image: EPFL

According to new research, mid-altitudes host the largest number of species because the size and the connectedness of similar habitats are greatest there. One implication of their findings, presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is that moving to higher elevations to adapt to a warming climate could drive species into habitats with a whole different set of spatial properties.

Many factors determine the number species that can co-exist on a patch of land. Large areas with similar properties typically host more species than small ones. And their biodiversity can be increased further if many similar habitats are connected.

In mountainous terrain, other factors come into play, such as temperature, biological productivity, and exposition. By transposing the findings from flat land to mountainous terrain, a team of researchers from across Switzerland has found a new way to explain the observation that biodiversity in mountainous terrain tends to peak at mid-altitudes.

“In mountainous terrain, peaks and valleys are isolated habitats, like islands in the ocean, whereas mid-elevation sites form well-connected patches,” explains Enrico Bertuzzo, a researcher at the Ecohydrology Lab at EPFL and first author of the study. “Given that habitat area and connectivity foster biodiversity, whereas isolation favors the dominance of few species, we hypothesized that topography itself could be playing a key role in regulating how biodiversity varies with elevation.”

Biodiversity is often studied on idealized cone-shaped mountains, where similar habitats are assumed to be found at similar altitudes. In this case, habitats get smaller with increasing altitude, and their species richness is predicted to decrease, leading biodiversity to peak at foot of the cone and steadily decrease with elevation. Instead, Bertuzzo and his coauthors took a more laborious approach.

“Rather than simplifying mountainous terrain to perfect cones or regular hills, our starting point was to consider it in all of its complexity,” explains Florian Altermatt from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich.

To test their intuition that the very structure a landscape can shape biodiversity patterns, Bertuzzo and his coauthors let loose a large number of virtual species on a mountainous terrain in a computer simulation. Each virtual species was assigned an optimal altitude at which it could thrive, and these altitudes were distributed uniformly across all the elevations considered. When the researchers let the virtual species compete for habitats on landscapes modeled on real-life ones, their simulations confirmed their intuition: topography alone was enough to explain biodiversity patterns observed in nature.

“Other factors, like temperature, productivity, etc., are obviously also important, but they inevitably act on top of the unavoidable effect provided by the landscape structure,“ says Altermatt.

These findings are of particular relevance in a warming world. “Understanding the relation between elevation and biodiversity is crucial to predict how the distribution of species will change in response to climate change,” says Bertuzzo.

“Warmer temperatures will cause species' niches to shift upwards. The same ecological community will therefore move up the mountain, where it will find a different spatial composition, both in terms of available area and connectivity. Our findings underscore the importance of considering these factors to predict future changes.”

This study was carried out by researchers from the Laboratory for Ecohydrology at the EPFL, the Department of Aquatic Ecology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag), the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zürich, and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Princeton University.

Reference:
Enrico Bertuzzo, Francesco Carrara, Lorenzo Maric, Florian Altermatt, Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe, and Andrea Rinaldoa. Geomorphic controls on elevational gradients of species richness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. February 1, 2016. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1518922113

Contacts:
Prof. Andrea Rinaldo
Labor für Ökohydrologie
ETH Lausanne
Tel. +41 21 693 80 34
Mobile +41 79 226 70 83
E-mail: andrea.rinaldo@epfl.ch

Prof. Florian Altermatt
Institut für Evolutionsbiologie und Umweltwissenschaften
Universität Zürich
Tel. +41 58 765 55 92
E-mail: florian.altermatt@ieu.uzh.ch

Weitere Informationen:

http://www.mediadesk.uzh.ch/articles/2016/topografie-beeinflusst-biodiversitaet_...

Kurt Bodenmüller | Universität Zürich

Further reports about: Biology EPFL Ecohydrology Environmental mountainous terrain terrain

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Monitoring lava lake levels in Congo volcano
16.05.2018 | Seismological Society of America

nachricht Ice stream draining Greenland Ice Sheet sensitive to changes over past 45,000 years
14.05.2018 | Oregon State University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

Im Focus: Dozens of binaries from Milky Way's globular clusters could be detectable by LISA

Next-generation gravitational wave detector in space will complement LIGO on Earth

The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...

Im Focus: Entangled atoms shine in unison

A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.

The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...

Im Focus: Computer-Designed Customized Regenerative Heart Valves

Cardiovascular tissue engineering aims to treat heart disease with prostheses that grow and regenerate. Now, researchers from the University of Zurich, the Technical University Eindhoven and the Charité Berlin have successfully implanted regenerative heart valves, designed with the aid of computer simulations, into sheep for the first time.

Producing living tissue or organs based on human cells is one of the main research fields in regenerative medicine. Tissue engineering, which involves growing...

Im Focus: Light-induced superconductivity under high pressure

A team of scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg investigated optically-induced superconductivity in the alkali-doped fulleride K3C60under high external pressures. This study allowed, on one hand, to uniquely assess the nature of the transient state as a superconducting phase. In addition, it unveiled the possibility to induce superconductivity in K3C60 at temperatures far above the -170 degrees Celsius hypothesized previously, and rather all the way to room temperature. The paper by Cantaluppi et al has been published in Nature Physics.

Unlike ordinary metals, superconductors have the unique capability of transporting electrical currents without any loss. Nowadays, their technological...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supersonic waves may help electronics beat the heat

18.05.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Keeping a Close Eye on Ice Loss

18.05.2018 | Information Technology

CrowdWater: An App for Flood Research

18.05.2018 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>