Higher Biodiversity in Forests Means Greater Resilience of Ecosystems: Study

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Higher Biodiversity in Forests Means Greater Resilience of Ecosystems: Study

Territory expansion and resource consumption of humans caused a significant drop in the animal populations / Photo by aleksan via 123RF

 

Forests are a haven for various animal and plant species as they offer food and shelter. And those with higher levels of biodiversity are found to be more stable compared to mono diverse ones, according to a recent study.

The study of forest biodiversity and its association with ecosystems was conducted by biologists at the University of Freiburg, a public research university in Germany. Their findings revealed that the level of biodiversity in forests could impact ecosystems. Forests with greater biodiversity exhibited better endurance during stress. They published the results in the journal Global Change Biology.


Association Between Forest Biodiversity and Ecosystems

According to the World Wildlife Fund, an international non-governmental organization for wilderness preservation, biodiversity is a term used to define the different kinds of living organisms in one area, like a forest or a river. It refers to the number of animal, plant, fungus, and microorganism species in one place. Thus, more species of life in a single habitat indicates a greater level of biodiversity. And the higher the biodiversity is, the more it can help to support nature in providing the needs of living organisms, such as food, water, and even medicine.

At the University of Freiburg, biologists examined the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystems in forests. They found evidence that the two are strongly connected to each other, especially during trying times when stress hits the forests. Also, the evidence pinpointed that the level of biodiversity could determine the resilience of ecosystems and forests.

Researchers concluded that forests with more tree species have increased biodiversity / Photo by Mark Bridger via 123RF

 

Researchers looked into previous studies, as well, to confirm what they discovered. Details from past studies showed scientific evidence for the positive relationships between tree species diversity and ecosystem functions. However, those studies did not examine the relationship in areas where biodiversity could not be separated from other factors nor conducted experiments that would not be useful in long-term analyses.

In this study, the team worked on an experiment that involved 22 plots of tree species. The plots were planted with one, two, three, or five native tree species. Because the plots had a different number of species, their growth was different from one another. Researchers applied this setup to obtain data from a broader source of information. As such, they were able to collect information from more tree species and to examine better structural diversity from those trees.

Researchers maintained the plots and studied the trees from 2006 to 2016. They collected 10 years’ worth of information regarding biodiversity and ecosystem functions in different plot types. They managed to retrieve relevant data of ecosystem productivity and stability from each plot and then compared them to each other to highlight the association.


Better Biodiversity, More Resilient Ecosystems

After data collection, analyses, and comparisons, researchers found that plots with two to three species showed higher productivity of 25 to 30 percent, on average, compared to plots with one species while plots with five species exhibited an average productivity rate of 50 percent or even higher in certain times. These productivity rates were discovered particularly effective when natural phenomena occurred, such as El Nino that dries out the forest soil.

They concluded that forests with more tree species have increased biodiversity. That increased biodiversity positively impacts the productivity of forests and stability against disturbances, which would normally affect trees strongly. Their findings proposed that improving forest biodiversity could assist in fighting the effects of climate change. Reforestation programs should include that factor when planting more tree species to promote biodiversity.


The Greatest Enemy of Biodiversity

In the modern age, the greatest threat to biodiversity is humans, specifically, human-related activities. In the 2018 Living Planet Report of WWF, an average 60 percent decline was observed in the worldwide populations of living organisms since 1970. That average was detected in birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

Territory expansion and resource consumption of humans caused a significant drop in the animal populations. Overfish, forest clears, and pollution are some of the worst effects of human activities conducted on land, in oceans, and in the air. These activities triggered the extinction of many animals, which accelerated the decrease in biodiversity in various ecosystems.

Borneo, one of the places on Earth with high biodiversity, is not immune to the adverse effects of human activities. This country in Southeast Asia is home to over 1,400 various animal species and at least 15,000 plant species. The island also serves as a sanctuary to more than 50 species of carnivorous pitcher plants and about 3,000 species of orchids.

Unfortunately, the island has been struggling against human pressure for decades. Efforts to extract natural resources in Borneo resulted in a 30 percent decrease in its forests in 40 years. The same efforts dropped the population of critically endangered Bornean orangutans by 50 percent in 20 years.

Although human pressure threatened animals in Borneo, not every resident of the island wants to purge the forests. Indigenous people, for example, depend on the biodiversity and ecosystems of the island for food, water, and shelter. These people are a part of the 18 million individuals living on the island.

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