Impacts of Biodiversity Loss

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Science  04 May 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6081, pp. 552-553
DOI: 10.1126/science.1222102

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Historically, ecologists and evolutionary biologists have treated the variety of life on Earth as if it were a simple by-product of the physical and chemical variation that generates biological diversity and allows it to persist. However, this perspective changed in the 1990s, when scientists began to manipulate biodiversity in controlled environments and found that it can act as an independent variable that directly controls ecosystem-level functions, such as nutrient cycling and biomass production (14). The idea that biodiversity might control—rather than just respond to—Earth's biophysical processes was foreign to many researchers (5). But by 2010, more than 600 manipulative experiments had been performed, spanning much of the tree of life and most major biomes on the planet (6). We now know that biodiversity regulates many ecosystem-level processes, including some that are essential for providing goods and services to humanity (69). On page 589 of this issue, Reich et al. (10) provide important novel insights into how much diversity is needed to maintain the productivity of ecosystems.