The environment--and the individual trees within it--look alike but vary in thousands of ways.
Click on image for full size
Image Courtesy of James Clark
Forest Tree Species Diversity Depends on Individual Variation
News story originally written on February 25, 2010
When studying ecosystems, scientists usually look at general information about different plant species. Doing this can be useful because it makes it possible to look at more species at a time, but it also means they can't learn the little ways in which plant species are different from each other.
James Clark, a forest ecologist from Duke University, looked at data for 33 species of trees. The study included 22,000 individual trees from 11 different forests in the southeastern United States. He used observations of things like tree diameter, the width and height of the tree canopy, the amount of sunlight in an area, and the type of soil for all of the trees in the 11 stands of forest.
Clark learned that individual trees in a species often respond the same to environmental changes as trees from the same species, rather than trees from different species. He said this is important because as the individuals in a population react to the environment, the similarity they share with others of their own species makes them compete within their species. This competition makes it so trees of lots of different species can live in the same environment.
These findings have brought up a new perspective: instead of thinking that introducing new species into an environment makes it harder for the existing species to survive, diversity makes it easier for all species to be successful.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Learn about Earth and space science, and have fun while doing it! The games
section of our online store
includes a climate change card game
and the Traveling Nitrogen game
You might also be interested in:
Biomes are large regions of the world with similar plants, animals, and other living things that are adapted to the climate and other conditions. Explore the links below to learn more about different biomes....more
Kingdom Plantae contains almost 300,000 different species of plants. It is not the largest kingdom, but it is a very important one! In the process known as "photosynthesis", plants use the energy of the...more
Scientists have learned that Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain, has erupted in the past due to the mixing of two different types of magma. "The data will help give us a better road map to what a future...more
The Earth's mantle is a rocky, solid shell that is between the Earth's crust and the outer core, and makes up about 84 percent of the Earth's volume. The mantle is made up of many distinct portions or...more
Some geologic faults that appear strong and stable, slip and slide like weak faults, causing earthquakes. Scientists have been looking at one of these faults in a new way to figure out why. In theory,...more
The sun goes through cycles that last approximately 11 years. These solar cycle include phases with more magnetic activity, sunspots, and solar flares. They also include phases with less activity. The...more
Studying tree rings doesn't only tell us the age of that tree. Tree rings also show what climate was like for each year of a tree's life, which means they can tell us about climates of the past and about...more