Species diversity promotes ecosystem stability

From tropical rainforests to coral reefs, some of Earth’s most diverse ecosystems are also the most stable. This staggering diversity stands in opposition to ecological theory, which for decades has predicted that diversity begets instability. By using a different approach to modelling species growth, based on extensive data, the research suggests that although all species in ecosystems initially grow exponentially, this growth eventually slows, creating a balanced ecosystem.
Photos: Rhett Butler and Max Planck Institute

Biodiversity loss may accelerate ecosystem destabilization.

What maintains stability within an ecosystem and prevents a single best competitor from displacing other species from a community? Does ecosystem stability depend upon the presence of a wide variety of species, as early ecologists believed, or does diversity do the exact opposite, and lead to instability, as modern theory predicts?

Resolving a long-standing debate among ecologists

A new study from McGill University and the Max Planck Institute and published recently in Science suggests an answer to this question that has been a subject of debate among ecologists for half a century.

The researchers approached the question of population growth using a model that, so far, had not been used in this context – though it aligns with conventional wisdom and the way that people have traditionally modelled individual growth (from birth to maturity).

The researchers used data about population abundance, growth and biomass from a variety of species – including insects, fish and mammals – from across the globe, collected over the past 60 years. Their results, based on extensive analysis, suggests that, contrary to contemporary ecological theory, species diversity leads to ecosystem stability, as early ecologists had believed.

Growth in populations slows with density

“While nearly all prior theory assumes that populations grow exponentially, there is growing evidence that species actually follow a slightly different course, one in which exponential growth continuously slows down. It’s a bit like the law of diminishing returns in economics.”  says Ian Hatton, a research associate in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, at McGill University and the corresponding author on the paper.

“What’s amazing is that such a small difference in population growth can have such a large effect on community interactions, completely reversing the predictions from decades of theory.”

Dangers of disturbing the balance

Their findings raise alarming questions about the potential large-scale impacts of biodiversity loss.

“This research is becoming increasingly urgent given the current rates of species extinction and loss of biodiversity,” says Hatton. “In addition to better aligning theory with data, the model makes an unsettling prediction: losses in biodiversity can further destabilize an ecosystem and prevent them from recovering after a disturbance.”

The study:

Diversity begets stability: sublinear growth and competitive coexistence across ecosystems” by I. Hatton et al was published in Science

DOI: 10.1126/science.adg8488

Media Contact

Katherine Gombay
McGill University
Cell: 514-717-2289

Media Contact

Katherine Gombay
McGill University

All latest news from the category: Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

This complex theme deals primarily with interactions between organisms and the environmental factors that impact them, but to a greater extent between individual inanimate environmental factors.

innovations-report offers informative reports and articles on topics such as climate protection, landscape conservation, ecological systems, wildlife and nature parks and ecosystem efficiency and balance.

Back to home

Comments (0)

Write a comment

Newest articles

Zap Energy achieves 37-million-degree temperatures in a compact device

New publication reports record electron temperatures for a small-scale, sheared-flow-stabilized Z-pinch fusion device. In the nine decades since humans first produced fusion reactions, only a few fusion technologies have demonstrated…

Innovative microscopy demystifies metabolism of Alzheimer’s

Researchers at UC San Diego have deployed state-of-the art imaging techniques to discover the metabolism driving Alzheimer’s disease; results suggest new treatment strategies. Alzheimer’s disease causes significant problems with memory,…

A cause of immunodeficiency identified

After stroke and heart attack: Every year, between 250,000 and 300,000 people in Germany suffer from a stroke or heart attack. These patients suffer immune disturbances and are very frequently…

Partners & Sponsors