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Every spring robins come bob, bob, bobbin' along to Gothic, the former Colorado mining community that's now the site of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. This year they didn't even wait for spring—the first robin showed up on 13 March, more than a week before the spring equinox.
A highly controversial issue in global biogeochemistry is the regulation of terrestrial carbon (C) sequestration by soil nitrogen (N) availability. This controversy translates into great uncertainty in predicting future global terrestrial C sequestration. We propose a new framework that centers on the concept of progressive N limitation (PNL) for studying the interactions between C and N in terrestrial ecosystems. In PNL, available soil N becomes increasingly limiting as C and N are sequestered in long-lived plant biomass and soil organic matter. Our analysis focuses on the role of PNL in regulating ecosystem responses to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, but the concept applies to any perturbation that initially causes C and N to accumulate in organic forms. This article examines conditions under which PNL may or may not constrain net primary production and C sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems. While the PNL-centered framework has the potential to explain diverse experimental results and to help researchers integrate models and data, direct tests of the PNL hypothesis remain a great challenge to the research community.
The development of water resources to satisfy urban water needs has had serious impacts on freshwater ecosystem integrity and on valuable ecosystem services, but positive trends are emerging that point the way toward a solution. We demonstrate this through case studies of water resource development in and around five large urban areas: Los Angeles, Phoenix, New York, San Antonio, and Atlanta. Providing freshwater ecosystems with the water flows necessary to sustain their health, while meeting the other challenges of urban water management, will require greatly increased water productivity in conjunction with improvements in the degree to which planning and management take ecosystem needs into account. There is great potential for improvement in both these areas, but ultimately water planners will also need to set limits on human alterations to river flows in many basins in order to spur greater water productivity and protect ecosystem water allocations before water supplies become overtaxed.
We investigated how large carnivores, herbivores, and plants may be linked to the maintenance of native species biodiversity through trophic cascades. The extirpation of wolves (Canis lupus) from Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1920s and their reintroduction in 1995 provided the opportunity to examine the cascading effects of carnivore–herbivore interactions on woody browse species, as well as ecological responses involving riparian functions, beaver (Castor canadensis) populations, and general food webs. Our results indicate that predation risk may have profound effects on the structure of ecosystems and is an important constituent of native biodiversity. Our conclusions are based on theory involving trophic cascades, predation risk, and optimal foraging; on the research literature; and on our own recent studies in Yellowstone National Park. Additional research is needed to understand how the lethal effects of predation interact with its nonlethal effects to structure ecosystems.
Empirical studies investigating the role of species diversity in sustaining ecosystem processes have focused primarily on terrestrial plant and soil communities. Eighteen representative studies drawn from post-1999 literature specifically examined how changes in biodiversity affect benthic ecosystem processes. Results from these small-scale, low-diversity manipulative studies indicate that the effects of changes in biodiversity (mostly synonymous with local species richness) are highly variable over space and time and frequently depend on specific biological traits or functional roles of individual species. Future studies of freshwater and marine ecosystems will require the development of new experimental designs at larger spatial and temporal scales. Furthermore, to successfully integrate field and laboratory studies, the derivation of realistic models and appropriate experiments will require approaches different from those already used in terrestrial systems.
Small organisms (less than 1 millimeter in length) tend to have a cosmopolitan distribution. This is a consequence of huge absolute population sizes rather than any inherent properties of particular taxonomic groups. At the local scale, the diversity of small species exceeds that of larger organisms, but at the global scale this relation is reversed, because endemism is largely responsible for the species richness of large organisms. For small organisms, the relationship between species and area is flat, and a latitudinal diversity gradient is absent or weak. These patterns are explained by some of the assumptions underlying the unified neutral community model.