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Biodiversity: Important Above and Below Ground

Sep 03, 2015 04:49 PM EDT
Tibetan Plateau
Researchers found that biodiversity underground is just as important as above-ground. Pictured here is the Tibetan Plateau in China, which was chosen as a study site for its extensive variation in climate.
(Photo : Xin Jing, Peking University)

It turns out that biodiversity underground--the world of moss, soil, bacteria, and insects--plays a key role in regulating the Earth's ecosystems above. Worms, bugs and bacteria might not seem as interesting as lions and Nobel Prize winners and others that roam above-ground, but new studies explain the critical role that below-surface world plays in carbon storage and providing soil nutrients.

"Biodiversity below ground is neither very visible nor very cute, but pick up a handful of soil and you might find more species there than all of the vertebrates on the planet. We need to turn our attention towards these organisms, if we are to better understand the ecosystems we depend on for a range of functions," Aimée Classen, co-author from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, said in a news release.

According to their study, soil biodiversity accounts for up to 32 percent of the variation seen in ecosystem functions, while plant biodiversity accounts for 42 percent, the release said.  

"Ecosystems have multiple functions which are all important. They store carbon in soil and biomass which has massive implications for climate change, but they also hold back and release various nutrients which have effects on natural areas as well as agricultural yield. Therefore, we need to be concerned with the multiple functions of ecosystems, what controls them and how this might change with climate change," Dr. Xin Jing, of Peking University, said in the release. 

The researchers examined 60 different sites in the Tibetan Plateau in China. This area was chosen for its climate variation. Among the different sites, researchers found that soil biodiversity always influenced ecosystem multifunctionality, despite varying rainfall, temperature and pH. 

"The results suggest that the same pattern is likely to be found in other ecosystems around the world. However, our study also shows that the effect of soil biodiversity on ecosystem functions may be greater in areas with higher precipitation. That is important because scientific studies often focus on temperature -- not precipitation -- when predicting how ecosystems will respond to future changes such as climate change," Classen said in the release.

Their research was recently published in the journal Nature Communications

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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