Measuring Nature's Productivity. (Environment)

The Futurist, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

Measuring Nature's Productivity. (Environment)


As animal species become extinct and ecosystems less diverse, the environment for remaining species will become less healthy, according to a University of Maryland study. Biology professor Margaret Palmer and doctoral student Bradley Cardinale found that several different species of caddis fly larvae living together in a given stream means greater food productivity than when only one species is present.

This new study builds on earlier research showing that a decrease in species diversity means a less-productive ecosystem. "What's really exciting about our work is that we were able to show why this happens," says Palmer. "We found that species sometimes help each other capture food. When you lose a species, the others may eat less and become less productive."

Caddis flies are found in many different freshwater environments. They can occur in very large numbers and serve as food for fish, water birds, and other aquatic vertebrates. Fishers often gather them for bait for trout and other game fish.

The researchers built streams and placed caddis fly larvae gathered from natural streams in this manufactured world. The lab-created environment enabled the team to exercise greater control over their research. In some lab streams, the researchers combined several species of larvae, while in others they placed only a single species. …

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