Climate change: Biodiversity rescues biodiversity in a warmer world

July 14, 2017
A predatory female nematode of the genus Clarkus under the microscope. Credit: Marcel Ciobanu

Climate change leads to loss of biodiversity worldwide. However, ecosystems with a higher biodiversity in the first place might be less affected a new study in Science Advances reports. An international research team found that when they experimentally warmed meadows, the diversity of nematode worms living in the soil went down in monocultures, whereas the opposite was true for meadows with many different herbaceous plant species.

The last month was recorded as the warmest June ever in many parts of the world. Last year, 2016, was the warmest year in the modern temperature record. Our planet is constantly heating up. This poses direct threats to humans, like extreme weather events and global sea-level rise, but scientists are concerned that it may also affect our well-being indirectly via changes in . The variety of life, from and animals to microorganisms, is the basis of many services ecosystems provide to us, for example clean drinking water or food. Today, ecologists are challenged by the question: what does a warmer world mean for biodiversity? More species, less species, or no change?

A team of ecologists from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), Leipzig University, and the University of Minnesota found that climate warming can both increase and decrease biodiversity, and that the direction of the effect depends on how much biodiversity there is in the first place. In a long-running field experiment in Cedar Creek, Minnesota, the researchers established more than 30 different meadow plots, some with only one plant species (monocultures), and others with up to 16 different plant species. Then, they warmed the meadows with heating lamps to approximately 3°C above the ambient temperature. Subsequently, the researchers recorded how this affected nematodes, little worms that live in the soil in high abundance and of which many different species exist. Nematodes play important roles for several ecosystem functions, for example they help to make the soil fertile which is crucial for plant production.

The meadow plots were part of the Long-Term Ecological Research Station in Cedar Creek, Minnesota, USA. The heating lamps placed above the meadows heated the meadow to approx. 3 degrees Celcius above the ambient temperature. Credit: Jacob Miller

When the researchers warmed the monoculture plots, the diversity of nematodes substantially declined. However, when they warmed the plots with a high number of different plant species, the number of nematode species increased. Dr Madhav P. Thakur, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the iDiv research centre and the Leipzig University, says: "The story is simple; you need biodiversity to conserve biodiversity in a warmer world".

That's not, however, the end of the story. The researchers also report the limitation of biodiversity in rescuing biodiversity in a warmer world. While they did find a greater number of species in the warmed plots with high plant diversity, those were also more closely related, or in other words, more similar, to each other. "The reason was that these species had all been selected for a common characteristic, namely tolerance to a warmer environment", Thakur explains. This increase in similarity can have implications for how well biological communities can respond to future environmental changes, potentially limiting the "insurance" effect inherent in a higher numbers of species," says Dr Jane Cowles, a co-author and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota. What will be the consequences for the stability of our planet's ecosystems? The authors encourage future research to solve this puzzle.

A monoculture of Lupinus perennis growing under a heating lamp. Credit: Susann Barrott

The monoculture meadow created for the experiment resembled meadows found in intensively managed agricultural land. These new research findings therefore support conservationists who are advocating for maintaining -rich ecosystems and farmland to sustain biodiversity, and thus human well-being, in a warmer world. This may help to prevent negative effects of climate warming, although likely with some limitations.

Explore further: When peaceful coexistence suddenly turns into competition

More information: M. P. Thakur, D. Tilman, O. Purschke, M. Ciobanu, J. Cowles, F. Isbell, P. D. Wragg, N. Eisenhauer (2017), Climate warming promotes not only species diversity but also taxonomic redundancy in complex environments. Sci. Adv. 3, e1700866. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700866 http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700866

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mememine69
1 / 5 (2) Jul 14, 2017
CO2=Y2Kx1984
Your own children that you climate blame witch burners eagerly issue your CO2 death threats to will remember you in their history books for lying to them saying science wasn't allowed to say their CO2 end of days was; "proven" or as "real as they say the planet isn't flat". Your kids know scientists are more than 99% sure the planet isn't flat.
You eagerly condemned your own children and billions of others and all life on earth to an exaggerated catastrophic crisis.
Who's the neocon in history?
greenonions1
5 / 5 (1) Jul 15, 2017
Who's the neocon in history?
I think you are implying that being a neocon is a bad thing. I would tend to concur. One of the traits of a neocon (and a conservative) seems to be the propensity to make up facts, rather than learn from the science. Given that the majority of people in the world are concerned about climate change - http://www.pewres...-charts/ Yours seems to be a minority perspective, and reality seems to be lining up with the consensus science - https://www.thegu...ee-years I think our grand children would prefer us to employ the precautionary principle - rather than your limited thinking - that seems to be more along the lines of "Nah - let's ignore reality, and the science - and play craps with our grand children's world"

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