News / Science & Technology

Study: Nature Creates Buffer Against Climate Change

Biodiversity promotes healthy ecosystems

Plant diversity is key to a healthy ecosystem and a buffer against desertification in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya.
Plant diversity is key to a healthy ecosystem and a buffer against desertification in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

The most extensive study ever of biodiversity confirms what scientists have long believed, that natural ecosystems are healthier and more resilient when they support a large variety of plant life.



Reported in the Journal Science, this globe-spanning research finds that abundant forms of plant life keep soils more fertile and productive, and help to buffer ecosystems against the stresses of a changing climate.   

The study focused on semi-arid ecosystems which cover 40 percent of the planet and support 40 percent of the human population. Co-author David Eldridge, with the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at Australia’s University of New South Wales, says these dry lands are also among the ecosystems most at risk “from changes in management, changes in rainfall, changes in climate.”

An international team of scientists studied dry lands on every continent, except Antarctica.  Eldridge points out that on each, they marked out 30-by-30-meter plots, inventoried the plant life within and measured how it cycled carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, elements considered essential for life on earth.

“We also measured other attributes that we thought might be related, things like temperature, soil texture... how much sand or clay the soil has got in it, slope, latitude, longitude, all those attributes and used a modeling system to be able to pick out what some of the drivers were.”

Eldridge says while there were differences among the areas - from the dry woodlands in Western Australia to the high alpine grasslands in Chile - the overall findings were remarkably similar.

“Even with this huge diversity of different types of plant communities, the fact that when we analyzed our data from more than 200 sites, that even in these really diverse communities, diversity of plants came out as being a highly significant driver of how functional the soil was.”

And that wide variety of plant species was even more important than other factors, Eldridge says, such as annual rainfall and microbes in the soil. Loss of biodiversity reduces those services the ecosystem can provide.

“If we go from a system where we have a lot of species to very, very few species, then we know that the ability of the soil to produce carbon, to allow water to infiltrate to hold together, actually break down.”

The changing climate is also likely to reduce plant diversity and increase the areas affected by the desertification now underway in many developing countries. Eldridge says, for example, in a warmer world, sand content in soils would be expected to rise, lowering its productivity.

"What this shows is that anything that results in increased temperatures is ultimately going to reduce the functionality of dry land soils. Our diverse community of plants is providing a buffer against increased climate change.”

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid