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Diversity helps ecosystems cope with stress

Diverse grassland in Kenya.

Ecosystems with higher levels of biodiversity tend to better cope with more stress than those with less biodiversity, finds a new study published in Ecology Letters.

The results are based on analysis of 64 species of single-celled microalgae. The scientists, led by Bastian Steudel of the University of Zurich, looked at how different assemblages of algae responded to different stressors like higher temperatures or salt concentrations. The researchers used biomass production as an indicator for the performance of a community in response to a stressor.

“The more species of microalgae there are in a system, the more robust the system is under moderate stress compared to those with fewer species,” said Bastian Steudel of the University of Zurich.

“The study shows that a high degree of biodiversity under stress is especially important to maintain biomass production,” added co-author Michael Kessler.

The results are consistent with findings elsewhere. For example a study published last month in the journal Nature found that diverse grasslands respond better to drought than less diverse communities or monocultures.

CITATION: Bastian Steudel, Andy Hector, Thomas Friedl, Christian Löfke, Maike Lorenz, Moritz Wesche, Michael Kessler. Biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning change along environmental stress gradients. Ecology Letters. 5 September, 2012. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2012.01863.x

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