Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Species diversity protects the climate


Plants remove carbon dioxide from the air and incorporate it into plant biomass. A portion of this “fixed” carbon can be stored longer term in the soil through root systems and decomposition after plant death. A study of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry has demonstrated now for the first time how the biological diversity of plants increases this carbon storage. Species diversity not only boosts the formation of plant biomass but also increases the activity and genetic diversity of soil microorganisms, which increasingly transform plant carbon into soil organic matter. Carbon is thus bound for longer and sustainably removed from the atmosphere where it acts as greenhouse gas.

The richness of species in an ecosystem is not only a source of joy for nature lovers; it also defines an ecosystem’s functional characteristics and potentially maintains stability with climatic change.

On the left: positive impact of plant diversity on microbial carbon storage, on the right: experimental field site of long-term study 'The Jena Experiment'

Graphics: Markus Lange & Lisa Geesink, Picture author: Alexandra Weigelt ©MPI-BGC

For example, ecosystems dominated by plants play a central role in the global carbon cycle: through photosynthesis, grasses, trees, and other plants transform atmospheric carbon dioxide into plant biomass. The carbon they bind in this way then reaches the soil as organic matter via plant litter and root exudates and can be stored there.

The fact that extensive plant diversity promotes the storage of carbon in the soil has already been demonstrated by previous studies; however, the exact mechanism behind this process was not known up to now.

An international research team headed by Gerd Gleixner and Markus Lange both scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, investigated why ecosystems with extensive species diversity bind more carbon than others with fewer species.

To do so they used the test plots of the Jena Experiment, a long-term project being carried out jointly by the Max Planck researchers and the Friedrich Schiller University Jena to examine the influence of biodiversity on elemental fluxes in nature. The research team compared grasslands of different species composition which had been exposed to the same environmental conditions for a nine-year period.

The scientists observed that, unlike their species-poor counterparts, species-rich grasslands provide the soil microorganisms with more nutrients and substances, and at the same time offer more favorable environmental conditions. “These factors led to greater genetic diversity and, in particular, to increased activity on the part of the microbial community,” says Markus Lange, first author of the study.

A high level of biodiversity appears to alter the metabolism of the microorganisms
Unexpectedly, the increased microbial activity did not result in the loss of carbon-rich matter in the soil as decomposition did not appear to increase. On the contrary, the microbial community added more carbon to the soil because it converted more plant biomass.

“In the presence of greater biodiversity, the microorganisms’ metabolism appears to have shifted towards anabolic activity,” says Lange, explaining the study findings. Moreover, as demonstrated by the age determination of the carbon molecules in the soil based on natural isotopes and carbon flow modelling, this “microbial” carbon is stored in the soil for longer.

The study thus demonstrates, for the first time, that a high level of plant diversity results in the long-term storage of carbon in the soil because it gives rise to a more varied composition and greater activity on the part of the microbial community.

From a global perspective, plant-rich ecosystems are particularly important for storing atmospheric carbon dioxide which would otherwise as greenhouse gas increase the warming of the Earth. How-ever, biodiversity is constantly being reduced through the impacts of climate change and increasing land use, and has reached a stage of global decline and species loss.

“Once again, our findings high-light the importance of biodiversity for important ecosystem functions like carbon storage,” says Gerd Gleixner. “The conservation of a high level of biodiversity ultimately sustainably counteracts the increasing accumulation of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and hence climate change as well.”

The study of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena was published on April 7, 2015 in Nature Communications. The international research team was completed by Prof. Nico Eisenhauer (German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig), Prof. Robert I. Griffith (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford,UK) as well as scientists from the Georg August University Göttingen, the Humboldt University Berlin, the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, and the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Montferrier-sur-Lez, France. (ml, ef)

Original publication
Plant diversity increases soil microbial activity and soil carbon storage
Markus Lange, Nico Eisenhauer, Carlos A. Sierra, Holger Bessler, Christoph Engels, Robert I. Griffiths, Perla G. Mellado-Vázquez, Ashish Malik, Jacques Roy, Stefan Scheu, Sibylle Steinbeiss, Bruce C. Thomson, Susan E. Trumbore, Gerd Gleixner. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms7707

apl. Prof. Dr. Gerd Gleixner
Dpt. Biogeochemical Processes
MPI for Biogeochemistry
07745 Jena, Germany
Phone: + 49 (0)3641-576172

Dr. Markus Lange
Dpt. Biogeochemical Processes
MPI for Biogeochemistry
07745 Jena, Germany
Phone: + 49 (0)3641-576168

Weitere Informationen: Home page of the research group

Dr. Eberhard Fritz | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute

nachricht 'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Solid progress in carbon capture

27.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>