Using a network of natural grassland research sites around the world called the Nutrient Network, the study represents the first time such a large experiment has been conducted using naturally occurring sites.
Led by Yann Hautier, a Marie Curie Fellow associated with both the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the University of Minnesota and the Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich, the research team included U of M associate professors Eric Seabloom and Elizabeth Borer, and research scientist Eric Lind, along with scientists from institutions around the world including Andy Hector at Oxford University's Department of Plant Sciences. The findings were published on February 16 in the journal Nature.
The researchers found that plant diversity in natural ecosystems creates more stable ecosystems over time because of less synchronized growth of plants. "This is sometimes called the portfolio effect," says Seabloom. "If you have money in two investments and they're both stocks, they're going to track each other, but if one is a stock and one is a bond, they're going to respond differently to the overall economy and are more likely to balance each other."
The researchers collected plants from each of the sites, then sorted, dried, and weighed them to monitor the number of species of plants and total amount of plants, or "biomass," grown over time. They used this information to quantify species diversity and ecosystem stability. Says Hautier: "It was really striking to see the relationship between diversity and stability" and the similarities to data collected from artificial grasslands as part of a research effort called BioDepth, indicating that the results from natural grasslands of the Nutrient Network could be predicted from the results of artificial grasslands.
"The results of our study emphasize that we need to consider not just how productive ecosystems are but also how stable they are in the long-term, and how biodiversity is related to both aspects of ecosystem functioning," says Andy Hector.
The researchers also found that grassland diversity and stability are reduced when fertilizer is added. Fertilizers are intentionally used in grassland to increase livestock fodder. Fertilizer addition is also occurring unintentionally in many places around the world because nitrogen, a common fertilizer, is released into the atmosphere from farming, industry, and burning fossil fuels. Rainfall brings nitrogen out of the atmosphere and on to grasslands, changing the growth and types of plant species. This study placed measured amounts of fertilizer on a portion of their research sites and measured the changes that ensued.
"What we find is that the stabilizing effect [of species diversity] is lost, and we have less stable ecosystems when we have more nutrients coming into that system," says Borer. This, the researchers found, was due to more synchronized growth of plants, eliminating the "portfolio effect."
This study was made possible due to the formation of the Nutrient Network, also known as NutNet. Borer and Seabloom led a small group of scientists who created NutNet to standardize the way that ecology research is conducted. NutNet is a "grassroots campaign" that is supported by scientists who volunteer their time and resources. There are now 75 sites around the world that are run by more than 100 scientists participating in the NutNet experiment. "It's a great project and I'm happy to be a part of it," says Hautier. "The collaboration is fantastic."
NutNet scientists collected data for this study for three years, measuring plant growth in 41 sites on five continents, so the researchers feel confident that their results have global applications. "We can line it up and say - apples to apples - this is what's happening and it allows us to say it's a general effect. We know it's the same because we measured it in the same way in all these different places," says Lind. The group ultimately wants to continue experiments for at least ten years to gather information about long-term trends in plant species diversity and ecosystem stability, extinctions, species invasions, and many other important changes in the world's grasslands.
Stephanie Xenos | EurekAlert!
Man-made underwater sound may have wider ecosystem effects than previously thought
05.02.2016 | University of Southampton
Sluggish electrons caught in action
04.02.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik
Automobiles increase the mobility of their users. However, their maneuverability is pushed to the limit by cramped inner city conditions. Those who need to...
Advance in biomedical imaging: The University of Würzburg's Biocenter has enhanced fluorescence microscopy to label and visualise up to nine different cell structures simultaneously.
Fluorescence microscopy allows researchers to visualise biomolecules in cells. They label the molecules using fluorescent probes, excite them with light and...
NASA's follow-on to the successful ICESat mission will employ a never-before-flown technique for determining the topography of ice sheets and the thickness of sea ice, but that won't be the only first for this mission.
Slated for launch in 2018, NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) also will carry a 3-D printed part made of polyetherketoneketone (PEKK),...
In the last decades, sea level has been rising continuously – about 3.3 mm per year. For reef islands such as the Maldives or the Marshall Islands a sinister picture is being painted evoking the demise of the island states and their cultures. Are the effects of sea-level rise already noticeable on reef islands? Scientists from the ZMT have now answered this question for the Takuu Atoll, a group of Pacific islands, located northeast of Papua New Guinea.
In the last decades, sea level has been rising continuously – about 3.3 mm per year. For reef islands such as the Maldives or the Marshall Islands a sinister...
The ‘Internet of Things’ is growing rapidly. Mobile phones, washing machines and the milk bottle in the fridge: the idea is that minicomputers connected to these will be able to process information, receive and send data. This requires electrical power. Transistors that are capable of switching information with a single electron use far less power than field effect transistors that are commonly used in computers. However, these innovative electronic switches do not yet work at room temperature. Scientists working on the new EU research project ‘Ions4Set’ intend to change this. The program will be launched on February 1. It is coordinated by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR).
“Billions of tiny computers will in future communicate with each other via the Internet or locally. Yet power consumption currently remains a great obstacle”,...
02.02.2016 | Event News
26.01.2016 | Event News
26.01.2016 | Event News
05.02.2016 | Life Sciences
05.02.2016 | Materials Sciences
05.02.2016 | Physics and Astronomy