Biodiversity and the Functioning of Ecosystems: Translating Results from Model Experiments into Functional Reality

Principal Investigator(s): 

Bradley Cardinale, J. Emmett Duffy and David Hooper

We are currently in the midst of one of the greatest waves of species extinction that has ever occurred on Earth. But even as rates of species loss are approaching those of prior mass extinctions, we know little about the different roles that species play in ecosystems, and we have almost no idea how the well-being of our own species is linked to the great variety of life that inhabits our planet.

The goal of our working group is to improve our understanding of the consequences of species extinction for humanity. We will summarize the results of more than two decades of ecological experiments that have examined how the diversity of bacteria, fungi, plants and animals influence biological processes that are essential to the existence of life. Using these data, we will:

1) Develop statistical models that estimate how many species must be conserved to maintain essential biological processes in natural ecosystems

2) Quantify trade-offs in how biodiversity impacts different biological processes so that we can make informed decisions about how to maximize the ‘multi-functionality’ of diverse systems

3) Assess how biodiversity affects selected services that natural ecosystems provide to society, such as plant uptake of greenhouse gases like CO2 from the atmosphere

Our work is timely, as the United Nations General Assembly has named 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity. Our results will help aid international efforts to conserve and manage species and their natural habitats in a period of unprecedented environmental change.

More information about this research project and participants.