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article imageDiversity-decomposition relationships in forests worldwide

By Tim Sandle     Aug 7, 2020 in Environment
Two new studies, exploring how biodiversity impacts plant decay in forests worldwide, could help predict the potential effect of species loss on ecosystems. The studies set out a policy direction for governments.
Plant species diversity is of great importance for world environment and the sustainability of different ecological niches. This is because biodiversity sets the rate of carbon and nutrient cycling during litter decomposition. Decaying leaves in particular help to form organic matter in the soil, providing nutrients to plants and decomposers (such as invertebrates, bacteria and fungi) on land and in water
The two studies are published in the science journal eLife. The first is titled "Diversity-decomposition relationships in forests worldwide", and it comes from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Looking into plant-matter decomposition, the study encompasses 65 field studies relating to the major forest ecosystems on the planet. These studies show that decomposition occurs more quickly when plant litter is composed of more than one species. The litter mixture impact appears greatest in early decomposition stages. The researchers also found that litter diversity accelerates nitrogen release.
These findings are important for maintaining biodiversity since litter diversity effects the carbon and nutrient dynamics during decomposition. Given that these molecules are passed along the food chains, after being broken down by bacteria and fungi, to process is essential for maintaining many species.
The second study, titled "Biodiversity mediates the effects of stressors but not nutrients on litter decomposition", takes on a similar theme. This study set out to predict how species loss affects ecosystems, and charts how biodiversity change for ecosystems depends upon different kinds of environmental change. It is important to consider how biodiversity influences processes such as decomposition, and how biodiversity itself is affected by human activity.
Notably, both studies (as summarized in "Ecosystems: The diversity of decay") find that type and magnitude of human activities can alter the biodiversity of a given environmental niche to the detriment of the carbon and nutrient cycle. This should focuses maintaining biodiversity as clear policy imperative of governments, informing as to the design of suitable strategies to maintain biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.
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