In New Study, Scientists Propose That a Handful of Species Types Are Key Are to Ecosystem Health
by Ariel Mark
While conducting field research in the humid salt marshes of Sapelo Island, scientists Marc Hensel and Brian Silliman made an astonishing discovery: species type, not just quantity, is vital for maintaining healthy ecosystems.
For decades, scientists believed that preserving the largest number of species was critical for ecosystem function, regardless of their genetic makeup. However, Hensel, a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, and Silliman, Rachel Carson Associate Professor at Duke University, counter the old dogma in an article recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
By examining the relationships among three dominant consumer species (i.e., grazers and predators), Hensel and Silliamn found that it isn’t just the number of total species, but the number of specific species that is crucial to upholding ecosystem performance.
Working in the cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) dominated salt marshes of Sapelo Island in the Southeastern U.S. state of Georgia, the researchers measured the effect of species loss on ecosystem performance. Salt marshes are seemingly simple ecosystems composed of a few extremely abundant and influential species…
(read more: MongaBay)
photograph of marsh periwinkle snail (Litoraria irrorata)by Mary Hollinger