Plant Extinctions Will Speed Up Global Warming


As plant species die off, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will increase, according to a study to be published in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. According to the study, the decline of an area's plant species makes the entire habitat less productive. Once some plant species go, the rest become less healthy, and the total amount of plant biomass shrinks. With it goes the habitat's food and water -- and then animals start to die off, too.

And of course, less plants equals less oxygen released into the atmosphere, and more carbon dioxide left unabsorbed. That's kind of bad.

"Natural habitats with a greater variety of plant species are more productive," said one of the study's co-authors, Michel Loreau of Montreal's McGill University. In other words, systems with a greater degree of biodiversity thrive on that biodiversity and every species does better overall.

You might think that the plants with smaller populations -- the ones more likely to go extinct -- wouldn't matter that much to an ecosystem, but the experiments in this study showed that an ecosystem's supporting species are vital to the success of its key species and their existence enhances the productivity of the entire system.

Also of importance, the study showed that when a plant species is removed from an ecosystem, nothing else comes in to take its place.

So let's keep those plants alive folks. They're just a wee bit important to our survival.

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