Some thirty million species now live on Earth, but their spatial distribution is highly uneven. Biologists since Darwin have been asking why. Now, scientists funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), have discovered part of the answer: how plant and animal communities originally assembled is a predictor of future biodiversity and ecosystem productivity.
The experiment using microorganisms including the ciliates shown here indicates that historical events produce a remarkable variety of productivity-biodiversity relationships--a finding that would be difficult to reveal in natural ecosystems composed of large, slowly responding macroorganisms.
Photo Credit: Wilhelm Foissner, Andreas Zankl, University of Salzburg, Austria
"Despite its importance, species diversity has proven difficult to understand, in large part because multiple processes operating at various scales interact to influence diversity patterns," said biologist Tadashi Fukami of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, lead author of a paper on the subject published in the July 24th issue of the journal Nature. "On evolutionary scales, species diversity is a result of speciation and extinction. But evolutionary processes are variable across space, interactive over time, and consequently, hard to identify. On ecological scales, diversity is a result of community assembly, how species join ecological communities over time."
Fukami and co-author Peter Morin of Rutgers University in New Jersey attempt to provide a novel ecological perspective from which to view diversity patterns. They argue that we can better understand diversity by considering how the history of community assembly interacts with other ecological variables to affect diversity.
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