Disentangling Ecosystem Functions: Our Imagination is the Limit


Studies of Action

Studies of ecosystem function are studies of action: of insects pollinating flowers, of predators killing pests – and in our case (well, more often than not) of beetles disposing of dung. To isolate the effects of the critters that we think will matter, we need to selectively include or exclude them. If we think a particular species or species group is responsible for a certain function, then we test this by keeping it in or out of enclosures. If we want to look at effects of species diversity, then we create communities of different species richness.

Research on dung beetles is far from boring. © Kari Heliövaara.

Research on dung beetles is far from boring. © Kari Heliövaara.

Depending on the target organism, this is sometimes easy and sometimes difficult. But it almost invariably proves to be fun! We enjoy the challenge of inventing new techniques for unravelling ecosystem functions sustained by insects. Working on dung beetles – as we tend to do – can be messy, but it’s definitely never boring.

In targeting ecosystem functions, the real trick is to make the experiments relevant. What we want to understand are the effects of changes occurring in the real world. All too often studies of ecosystem functions have been focused on artificial species pools in artificial settings. To see how we have solved this, we’ll give you a quick look at our dungy portfolio of approaches to date. Continue reading

Impact of Flooding on Wetlands Measurable via Low-Cost Approach

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘Testing sea-level rise impacts in tidal wetlands: a novel in situ approach‘ taken from the University of Alabama:

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Researchers installed adjustable enclosures near the shoreline to simulate low, medium & high flooding levels. © Dr Eric Sparks, Mississippi State University

Scientists designed a new, on-site method for studying potential impacts rising sea levels can have on vital wetlands, said a University of Alabama researcher who led a study publishing in Methods in Ecology and Evolution today describing the modifiable apparatuses.

Primarily using materials available at the local hardware store, the scientists, including UA’s Dr Julia Cherry, designed, constructed and tested low-cost enclosures, called weirs, to realistically simulate three flooding levels on coastal wetlands. Simulating impacts of sea level rise on-site and at larger scales had previously proven difficult.

“I hope this provides other researchers with a template to ask their questions and to improve upon the method we’ve documented to do bigger and better coastal wetland studies,” said Cherry, an associate professor in UA’s New College and its biological sciences department. Continue reading