Calculating fussiness

Nov 07, 2011 Roelof Kleis

How fussy is a plant? A new measurement method developed by Alterra, part of Wageningen UR, gives the answer in a simple number.

Some plants are not so choosy; they grow pretty much everywhere. Take daisies or the grass growing between paving stones. Or dandelions, if you ignore the many dozens of micro-species. But a lot of plants are much fussier and are only to be found in certain niches in the environment. Wageningen UR researcher Albert Corporaal thought up a simple measurement for a plant's fussiness. Fussiness expressed as a number between zero and one hundred.


The concept this is based on is stenoecity, a term thought up by Corporaal himself. 'Steno means short or abbreviated and oekos refers to ecology. So the number is an abbreviated notation for the ecological fussiness. Ecological knowledge about a plant summarized in a number between zero and one hundred. The smaller the number, the fussier the plant.'
Measuring fussiness is not new as such, says Corporaal. Site managers talk of ecologically fussy species. These are mainly choosy species requiring protection and appearing on lists such as the well-known Red List. 'But I can't do sums with a Red List. My number is an alternative, a way of quantifying the ecological fussiness.'


The fussiness score incorporates the values of seven environmental variables for the sites where the plant grows in a simple and systematic manner. These are the soil's acidity, fertility, , , soil texture (graininess), soil dynamics and the amount of daylight available. The final score is the plant's stenoecity, or fussiness.
Corporaal has calculated the stenoecity for all 1,750 plants that grow wild in the Netherlands. This gives scores ranging from 17 (awlwort/slender bedstraw) to 77 (common chickweed/perennial rye grass). The vast majority of these species (more than 1,200) are reasonably to very fussy. These are species that are only found in a limited ecological range. A minority are not very fussy or not at all fussy and are found all over the place.


This new concept allows Corporaal to determine precisely when a plant risks extinction in the Netherlands, for example. That is the case if the stenoecity drops below 26.5. The effects of climate change on the plants (e.g. temperature or rainfall) can be calculated directly. The same is the case for conservation measures. The ecological significance of areas can be captured in a few numbers using stenoecity. These are some of the many possible applications.


Furthermore, stenoecity is not just applicable to plant life. Corporaal: 'The method can be used for all flora and fauna, including birds, butterflies and other creatures. What is more, this lets me compare these groups with each other. In fact, I can compare apples and oranges.' Dandelions are the great tits of the plant world: both lead the field in lack of fussiness. Or what about a Gross Domestic Ecological Product, analogous to the well-known concept of GDP? Corporaal says it's possible.
Corporaal has described his idea in detail together with colleagues at Alterra in a report for the Ministry of Agriculture. He is working on a scientific paper. These are the first steps towards general acceptance. 'The idea is that ultimately the figures should be a permanent component of the Dutch flora reports.'

Explore further: Sagebrush ecosystem recovery hobbled by loss of soil complexity at development sites

Provided by Wageningen University

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bumble bee visits a fritillary

Jun 25, 2010

Bumble bees can see which fritillary has the most nectar. Pollination by the bees protects plants against moulds.

Rethinking extinction risk?

May 24, 2011

For more than 40 years, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has published the Red List of Threatened Species describing the conservation status of various species of animals. They are ...

Fish can be picky eaters

Jul 19, 2010

( -- We all know how fussy kids can be about their food, but now new research suggests they're not the only ones.

Estimate of flowering plant species to be cut by 600,000

Sep 23, 2010

( -- Scientists from the UK, US and elsewhere have been carrying out a comprehensive assessment of flowering plants and adjusting the estimate of their total number. The new estimate is that there ...

Flora not flourishing in world's hotspots

Dec 10, 2008

Researchers at the University of Calgary have found the biodiversity picture in the region known as the "lungs of the Earth" contradicts commonly held views relating to extinction in that area.

Recommended for you

Monarch butterflies rebound in Mexico, numbers still low

16 minutes ago

The number of Monarch butterflies that reached wintering grounds in Mexico has rebounded 69 percent from last year's lowest-on-record levels, but their numbers remain very low, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Satellites, mathematics and drones take down poachers in Africa

2 hours ago

In 2014, 1,215 rhinos were killed in South Africa for their horns, which end up in Asia as supposed cures for a variety of ailments. An estimated 30,000 African elephants were slaughtered last year for their tusks to be turned into trinkets. The world loses three rhinos a day and an elepha ...

Study on insect aggression and neurochemistry

4 hours ago

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Professor and Chair of Biology John Swallow and his lab groups are applying information about neurotransmitters to illustrate the power of using insect models to study aggression. Swallow ...

Shark populations suffer from undue reputation

4 hours ago

Sharks have been making news yet again, after a spate of sightings in Newcastle, New South Wales, prompted days of beach closures and reports of oceangoers allegedly being "stalked" by "monster" specimens. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.