text-only page produced automatically by LIFT Text Transcoder Skip all navigation and go to page contentSkip top navigation and go to directorate navigationSkip top navigation and go to page navigation
National Science Foundation Home National Science Foundation - Biological Sciences (BIO)
Biological Sciences (BIO)
design element
BIO Home
About BIO
Funding Opportunities
Awards
News
Events
Discoveries
Publications
Advisory Committee
Career Opportunities
BIO Program Director and Reviewer Opportunities
Supplements & Other Opportunities
See Additional BIO Resources
View BIO Staff
BIO Organizations
Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
Environmental Biology (DEB)
Emerging Frontiers (EF)
Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS)
Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB)
Proposals and Awards
Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide
  Introduction
Proposal Preparation and Submission
bullet Grant Proposal Guide
  bullet Grants.gov Application Guide
Award and Administration
bullet Award and Administration Guide
Award Conditions
Other Types of Proposals
Merit Review
NSF Outreach
Policy Office
Additional BIO Resources
The BRAIN Initiative
FY 2015 BIO Budget Excerpts
BIO's Guidance on Data Management Plans
Dear Colleague Letters: BIO and Foundation-wide
List of BIO Cyberinfrastructure Reports
National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)
Partnership for Undergraduate Life Science Education (PULSE)
Supplements & Other Opportunities
Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI)
Broadening Participation Activities
NSF's Career-Life Balance Initiative
Interdisciplinary Research
BIO Reports
NSF Strategic Plan: 2011-2016
NSF Information Related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
Merit Review (effective Jan. 14, 2013)
Image Credits
Other Site Features
Special Reports
Research Overviews
Multimedia Gallery
Classroom Resources
NSF-Wide Investments

Email this pagePrint this page

Discovery
Stability and Diversity in Ecosystems

Scientists say focus on stability

Four underwater scenes with text after crayfish removal.

Sparkling Lake, Wis., after removal of invasive rusty crayfish: its ecosystem once again sparkles.
Credit and Larger Version

August 3, 2007

The following is part one in a series on the National Science Foundation's Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network. Visit parts two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen in this series.

Is biodiversity important for predicting human impacts on ecosystems? If diverse ecosystems were, as a consequence, more stable, the answer would be yes.

However, stability is not one, simple property of an ecosystem and there is no one, simple relationship between diversity and stability, say ecologists Tony Ives and Steve Carpenter of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

In the last 20 years, ecologists have performed experiments on diversity and stability, manipulating diversity (number of species) at small scales, then measuring one of several kinds of stability.

While these studies have taught us a lot about how diversity affects some types of stability, they don't necessarily tell us how stable ecosystems will be against human impacts, say Ives and Carpenter.

Ecologists should turn the question on its head, the researchers believe: rather than focusing on how diversity affects stability, scientists might make faster progress by focusing on stability first.

"Humans don't change 'just' biodiversity," said Ives. "Humans cause major environmental changes to ecosystems, like acidifying lakes or cutting down forests, with changes in biodiversity often a by-product.

"Rather than how biodiversity affects stability, we should be asking how environmental change affects the stability of many aspects of ecosystems, including diversity."

People often equate stable with good, unstable with bad, said Carpenter. But that thinking may be dead wrong.

"Anybody who has fought the very stable population of dandelions on their front lawn," he said, "or the increasingly predictable algal blooms in lakes like Mendota in downtown Madison [Wisconsin], knows that stable isn't necessarily good. Everyone would like to make components of ecosystems like these unstable enough to disappear."

In fact, environmental management is the management of stability, destabilizing unwanted situations while stabilizing preferred situations, Carpenter said.

Ives' and Carpenter's conclusion is that ecologists are still far from understanding how many ecosystems work.  There are no short-cuts, they say, and it might be impossible to extrapolate from one ecosystem (or one experimental plot) to other ecosystems.

"The best argument for preserving biodiversity is still the cautionary principle," said Ives. "Given that we know little, it makes sense not to change much."

Ives and Carpenter published a review paper on stability and diversity of ecosystems in the journal Science on July 6, 2007.

Their research is funded by the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology, Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program's North Temperate Lakes site in Wisconsin.

--  Cheryl Dybas, NSF (703) 292-7734 cdybas@nsf.gov

Investigators
Anthony Ives
Stephen Carpenter

Related Institutions/Organizations
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Locations
Wisconsin

Related Programs
Long Term Research in Environmental Biology

Related Awards
#0415670 QEIB - Nonlinearities in Stochastic Population Dynamics
#0083545 Biocomplexity: Divergent Dynamics: Complex Interactions of Riparian Land, People and Lakes

Related Websites
NSF LTER Program: http://www.lternet.edu
North Temperate Lakes LTER Site: http://www.lternet.edu/sites/ntl/

Four underwater scenes with text, before crayfish removal
Sparkling Lake, Wis., before the removal of rusty crayfish, an invasive species, from its waters.
Credit and Larger Version



Email this pagePrint this page
Back to Top of page