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Study: Biodiversity Loss Impacts as Great as Climate Change Impacts

Ecologist: "These extinctions may well rank as one of the top five drivers of global change."

- Common Dreams staff

Loss of biodiversity has as profound an effect as climate change, pollution and other major forms of environmental stress on ecosystems, according to a study released this week.

Serpentine grasslands are home to the endangered Bay Checkerspot butterfly. (photo credit: Leslie Gonzalez) "Loss of biological diversity due to species extinctions is going to have major effects on our planet, and we need to prepare ourselves to deal with them," said ecologist Bradley Cardinale of the University of Michigan, one of the paper's co-authors. "These extinctions may well rank as one of the top five drivers of global change."

The study by an international research team appears in the journal Nature this week.

The researchers found in their experiments that high levels of extinction had effects that were as great as ozone, acidification, elevated CO2 and nutrient pollution.

Biologist David Hooper of Western Washington University, the lead author of the paper, said, "Our results show that future loss of species has the potential to reduce plant production just as much as global warming and pollution."

"The biggest challenge looking forward is to predict the combined effects of these environmental challenges to natural ecosystems and to society," said J. Emmett Duffy of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, a co-author of the paper.

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National Science Foundation: Ecosystem Effects of Biodiversity Loss Rival Climate Change and Pollution
First comprehensive effort to compare biodiversity loss to other human-caused environmental changes

"Our results show that future loss of species has the potential to reduce plant production just as much as global warming and pollution."The results, published in this week's issue of the journal Nature, highlight the need for stronger local, national and international efforts to protect biodiversity and the benefits it provides, according to the researchers, who are based at nine institutions in the United States, Canada and Sweden. [...]

Studies over the last two decades demonstrated that more biologically diverse ecosystems are more productive.

As a result, there has been growing concern that the very high rates of modern extinctions--due to habitat loss, overharvesting and other human-caused environmental changes--could reduce nature's ability to provide goods and services such as food, clean water and a stable climate. [...]

The strength of the observed biodiversity effects suggests that policymakers searching for solutions to other pressing environmental problems should be aware of potential adverse effects on biodiversity as well.

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