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A study improves functioning of ecosystems using financial market methods

The work, in which the University of Alicante takes part, identifies combinations of plants that optimise the positive effects of biodiversity in ecosystems

The team of scientists has designed 570 micro-ecosystems including 90 species from three continents

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 Images: Miniature leaf litter ecosystems of different plant species and soil used to investigate the positive effects of biodiversity on the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems. Photographs by Hans Cornelissen, Luca Deschamps, Nicolas Gross, Rubén Milla, Norma Salinas, Sonia Ruiz and Pablo García Palacios.

 

Alicante, Tuesday, 9 February 2021

An international team led by researchers from CSIC, CNRS, INRAE and the University of Bern, with the participation of the University of Alicante, has designed a novel methodology inspired by the optimisation of stock market investments, and has taken it to the field of functional ecology. The study has been published in the prestigious US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).  According to Yoann Le Bagousse Pinguet, a researcher at the CNRS (France) and lead author of the paper, two little-studied aspects of biodiversity, namely the equitable distribution of different plant species and the presence of rare species, are fundamental to optimising the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems. For example, people could invest all their money in a single company on the stock market, or could spread it over small investments in companies in different sectors to minimise risks. The results of the study suggest that the latter option optimises the benefits of biodiversity in ecosystems.

The work identifies combinations of plants that maximise the positive effects of biodiversity on ecosystems, and that enhance biodiversity-based restoration and agricultural techniques. In particular, the scientists have designed 570 micro-ecosystems including 90 species from three continents.

Ecosystem restoration and production of agricultural systems can be improved through optimisation of biodiversity benefits. The relevance of plant functional equitability and the presence of rare species do not vary depending on the ecosystem considered, from tropical forests to subarctic to cultivated crops. This suggests that the application of these results can be translatable to different ecological contexts, as explained by Pablo García-Palacios, a researcher at the CSIC's Institute of Agricultural Sciences who coordinated the study. According to Nicolas Gross, researcher at INRAE and participant in the study, the results obtained highlight the importance of considering, beyond the number of species, multiple dimensions of biodiversity, including the diversity of functional traits and their distribution in the community.

 

Spread of diseases

Biodiversity is crucial for the functioning of ecosystems, yet it plays an important role in the spread of emerging diseases through the dilution effect. Diverse ecosystems limit the spread of pathogens by decreasing their concentration as they move from one host to another. In addition to studying different ecosystem functions such as the decomposition of organic matter or the recycling of nutrients, in this study, we have sequenced soil bacterial and fungal communities, as stated by Hugo Sáiz, researcher at the University of Bern. They would have seen that the functional equitability of plants and the presence of rare species decreases the abundance of plant pathogens as concluded by Fernando T. Maestre, distinguished researcher at the University of Alicante, director of the Laboratory of Arid Zones and Global Change and co-author of the study.

The current biodiversity crisis caused by human activity is one of the most important challenges facing the world's population according to international agencies such as the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the FAO. This crisis has led to a multitude of studies that have demonstrated the importance of biodiversity for the functioning of ecosystems and the services they provide, such as soil fertility, climate regulation and food production. However, the time has come to go a step further and use this knowledge to manage natural ecosystems and agricultural systems. To do this, tools such as those proposed in this study are needed to identify species combinations that maximise ecosystem functioning.

 

Reference:

"Functional rarity and evenness are key facets of biodiversity to boost multifunctionality" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 2021.  Doi: 10.1073/pnas.2019355118

 

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Queen Letizia presents UA researcher Fernando T. Maestre with the Jaume I Prize for Environmental Protection

 

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