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Family matters when predicting ecosystems’ reaction to global change

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‘Family’ matters when predicting ecosystems’ reaction to global change

Posted: 05 Dec 2014 07:00 AM PST

A new study shows that just as our family histories dictate what we look like and how we act, plant evolutionary history shapes community responses to interacting agents of global change... The research, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, may help predict what ecosystems will look like in the future and how they will work. “The issues of global change have already begun to jeopardize the natural functioning of ecosystems and important services that we often take for granted like clean air, clean water, food and fiber production,” said Rachel Wooliver, lead author and doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology. “Our study is the first to experimentally show that plant communities with different evolutionary backgrounds will respond differently to human-caused physical and biological changes.” In other words, regarding the future effects of global change on ecosystem services and processes humans rely upon, it’s all in the family… They analyzed plant activity in an ambient environment versus one of increased levels of carbon dioxide and soil nitrogen. “We found that only those communities composed of native species within one evolutionary lineage responded significantly to elevated carbon dioxide and nitrogen by taking carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it into biomass,” said co-author John Senior of the University of Tasmania. “Communities from another lineage, on the other hand, showed no response, which suggests that they will play a less crucial role in offsetting the rise of carbon dioxide and global warming.This means that evolutionary history will shape which species will effectively sequester carbon and which won’t. Further, the presence of the nonnative species in these communities influenced productivity differently depending on the evolutionary background of the interacting native species. Thus, family trees can be used to predict how the spread of nonnative species by humans will shape the look and function of ecosystems as global change continues. “Overall, this study provides new direction for global change scientists by highlighting that evolutionary history is key to understanding outcomes of plant function and diversity with rapid ecological change,” said Wooliver.

 

Rachel Wooliver mail, John K. Senior, Jennifer A. Schweitzer, Julianne M. O’Reilly-Wapstra J. Adam Langley, Samantha K. Chapman, Joseph K. Bailey. Evolutionary History and Novel Biotic Interactions Determine Plant Responses to Elevated CO2 and Nitrogen Fertilization. PLoS One, December 05, 2014 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0114596

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