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Biodiversity more important for ecosystem services than thought

August 20, 2011 - Washington

A recent study of grasslands has shown that the importance of maintaining multiple ecosystem services across many years and places has been widely underestimated.

"Most previous studies considered only the number of species needed to provide one service under one set of environmental conditions," Prof. Michel Loreau from McGill University's biology department who supervised the study, said.

"These studies found that many species appeared redundant. That is, it appeared that the extinction of many species would not affect the functioning of the ecosystem because other species could compensate for their loss," he stated.

Now, by combining data from 17 of the largest and longest-running biodiversity experiments, scientists from universities across North America and Europe, have found that most of the studied species were important at least once for the maintenance of ecosystem services, because different sets of species were important during different years, at different places, for different services, and under different global change scenarios.

Furthermore, the species needed to provide one service during multiple years were not the same as those needed to provide multiple services during one year, researchers say.

"This means that biodiversity is even more important for maintaining ecosystem services than was previously thought," said Dr. Forest Isbell, the lead author and investigator of this study.

"Our results indicate that many species are needed to maintain ecosystem services at multiple times and places in a changing world, and that species are less redundant than was previously thought," he added.


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