Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Over the Hump: Ecologists Use Power of Network Science to Challenge Long-Held Theory

23.09.2011
Global sampling of 48 sites on five continents yields unprecedented data set

For decades, ecologists have toiled to nail down principles explaining why some habitats have many more plant and animal species than others.

Much of this debate is focused on the idea that the number of species is determined by the productivity of the habitat.

Shouldn't a patch of prairie contain a different number of species than an arid steppe or an alpine tundra?

Maybe not, says an international team of scientists that pooled its resources to re-evaluate the relationship between species numbers and habitat productivity.

The innovative, standardized global sampling of 48 sites on five continents yielded an unprecedented data set.

"Our study shows no clear relationship between productivity and the number of plant species in small study plots," says Utah State University plant ecologist Peter Adler.

Scientists say Adler's and his colleagues' findings represent a significant advance in ecological thought. The findings appear in this week's issue of the journal Science.

"We challenged a prevailing model developed in the early 1970s by British ecologist J. Philip Grime," says Adler, lead author of the paper. "He proposed that the number of species rises then declines with increasing productivity."

Though hotly debated, this "hump-shaped" model has remained a textbook standard for nearly four decades.

"In the search for underlying principles of ecology in a very complex natural world, it's inevitable that even long-standing and accepted theories will be debunked as more data are accumulated and synthesized," says Henry Gholz, program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research.

In an "Emperor's New Clothes" moment, Adler remembers skeptical observations about the hump-shaped model made by graduate students in his classroom.

"'Why do ecologists spend so much time on this model when the evidence to support it is so weak?' they asked me," he says. "That was the kick I needed to pursue this question."

The challenge was daunting.

Existing, disparate case studies couldn't conclusively support Grime's unimodal pattern. Inconsistencies in data collection methods further hampered efforts to distill evidence to support the hump-shaped model.

So Adler and fellow ecologists formed the Nutrient Network, or "NutNet," an NSF Research Coordination Network dedicated to investigating biodiversity and ecosystem processes in grasslands around the world.

Based at the University of Minnesota (UMN), the network is funded by an NSF grant to network organizers and UMN scientists Elizabeth Borer and Eric Seabloom.

"Our work not only sheds light on this classic question, it also demonstrates the power of a network approach," Borer says. "NutNet data are poised to inform many pressing ecological questions. Similar global, grassroots collaborations could help settle other longstanding scientific debates."

Says Gholz, "Research Coordination Networks are designed to facilitate these types of insights into the functioning of nature, insights that aren't possible in a focus on individual ecosystems."

Adler says that NutNet's data "emphasize the need to consider many factors to explain patterns of diversity--not just productivity alone."

NutNet's findings should spur ecologists to focus on other important factors regulating biodiversity, he says, such as evolutionary history, disturbance and resource supply.

"It's time to remove outdated models from our textbooks and concentrate on more sophisticated approaches," Adler says.

"That will improve our ability to predict the effects of environmental change on biodiversity."

Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF (703) 292-7734 cdybas@nsf.gov
Mary Ann Muffoletto, USU (435) 797-3517 maryann.muffoletto@usu.edu
Related Websites
Nutrient Network: http://nutnet.umn.edu/
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2011, its budget is about $6.9 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives over 45,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes over 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $400 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

Further reports about: Challenge NSF Power Plant Technology Science TV ecologists ecosystem process

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Waste in the water – New purification techniques for healthier aquatic ecosystems
24.07.2018 | Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen

nachricht Plenty of habitat for bears in Europe
24.07.2018 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

Im Focus: The “TRiC” to folding actin

Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...

Im Focus: Lining up surprising behaviors of superconductor with one of the world's strongest magnets

Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur

What happens when really powerful magnets--capable of producing magnetic fields nearly two million times stronger than Earth's--are applied to materials that...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

2018 Work Research Conference

25.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

15.08.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Diving robots find Antarctic winter seas exhale surprising amounts of carbon dioxide

15.08.2018 | Earth Sciences

Early opaque universe linked to galaxy scarcity

15.08.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>