Saturday, 7 April 2012

Drawing Connections Between Food Webs: Universal Truths About Species' Roles Uncovered

ScienceDaily (Apr. 4, 2012) — Ecosystems today face various threats, from climate change to invasive species to encroaching civilization. If we hope to protect these systems and the species that live in them, we must understand them -- an extremely difficult and time-consuming task, given the world's seemingly endless number of ecosystems, each with its own complex dynamics and relationships.

But what if we could pinpoint the most powerful players in a given food web, those "keystone" species without which the entire ecosystem would collapse? And what if we could predict how changes to one ecosystem would affect its various organisms based on data collected from another ecosystem half a world away?
Researchers from Northwestern University, with partners from New Zealand's University of Canterbury and the Spanish Research Council, say we can. Their research has revealed commonalities about species' roles in food webs that could hold the key to preservation of ecological communities worldwide.
The paper, "Evolutionary Conservation of Species' Roles in Food Webs," was published March 23 in the journal Science.
By studying the roles played by species in 32 ecological communities, the researchers found a species' role, or importance, in its food web isn't dependent upon its geographic location or even which species are present. Instead, a species' importance depends upon the type of species it is and its evolutionary history.

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