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Posted Sat Jun 26 2010: from Smithsonian, via EurekAlert:
Biodiversity's holy grail is in the soil
The experiments show that underground organisms are key to the maintenance of species diversity and patterns of tree-species relative abundance. The detrimental effects of soil organisms from adult trees not only explain seedling growth and survival patterns, but moreover that these effects are much more severe for seedlings of rare species than for seedlings of common species.... "Two completely different approaches--analysis of long-term forest dynamics observations and direct experiments on Panama's Barro Colorado Island--are telling us to look for the answer under the ground. Scott's experiments provide a direct comparison across species of how much their seedlings suffer from a sort of 'self inhibition' mediated by these soil organisms." Biologists refer to soil as a "black box" because it is notoriously difficult to study a tangle of roots, bacteria, fungi, tiny insects and other creatures without isolating or changing them. Very similar results in the greenhouse and in the field reveal that plant interactions with soil biota alone--not nutrients, insects, mammals or above-ground diseases--are sufficiently powerful and specific to explain why multiple species co-exist and importantly the strength of those interactions can be measured and plant species that are most abundant are least influenced by the soil biota around their parents. "We have dealt yet another blow to the ailing Neutral Theory of Biodiversity, which is premised on the idea that all species are the same," said Herre. "These two publications provide strong evidence that there are stabilizing mechanisms that maintain diversity, and thus that neutral dynamics do not explain plant species diversity and abundance."
[Read more stories about: species restoration]

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