Science Diary: Caterpillars – Importance of Diversity

music; ambience: morning rainforest, Tirimbina, Costa Rica, birds, insects

“And so one of the reasons why it’s important to protect diversity is that we don’t know which aspects of a diverse ecosystem are the ones that are really the nuts and bolts that you can’t do without.”

In the rainforest of Central America, the presence or absence of a single species of beetle could change the make-up of an entire ecosystem. That’s very interesting, you say, but what does that have to do with me? Well, stay tuned.

Welcome to Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Lee Dyer is an ecological entomologist at the University of Nevada in Reno.

“It’s likely that there are thousands of species like that, that have a pivotal role in even well-studied ecosystems. You think of one of the simplest ecosystems out there, a managed alfalfa field. It looks really simple. It’s one species of plant for the most part. There are hundreds of species of insects in alfalfa fields. A lot of them we have no idea what they do. There are a number of studies that show if you lower diversity of those insects in the alfalfa field, it’s less productive. But we don’t know the mechanism, because we don’t know all the interactions between all these insects that are in the alfalfa field. All the components of a diverse system could potentially be important. And there are definitely some in there that we don’t know much about that are really important. And that holds for the simplest of ecosystems to the most complex.”

Let’s say, for example, that a certain parasite is keeping insects that eat alfalfa plants in check. Well, spraying that field with pesticides could kill the useful parasites as well as the insects. So understanding the dynamics of diversity can have a real impact on our food supply and on our health.

Our latest project is a competition for third to sixth graders. Check out kidsciencechallenge.com. Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Science Diary: Caterpillars - Importance of Diversity

Virtually every organism in a rainforest ecosystem is part of an interdependent web of life.
Air Date:07/19/2011
Scientist:
Transcript:

music; ambience: morning rainforest, Tirimbina, Costa Rica, birds, insects

"And so one of the reasons why it's important to protect diversity is that we don't know which aspects of a diverse ecosystem are the ones that are really the nuts and bolts that you can't do without."

In the rainforest of Central America, the presence or absence of a single species of beetle could change the make-up of an entire ecosystem. That's very interesting, you say, but what does that have to do with me? Well, stay tuned.

Welcome to Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Lee Dyer is an ecological entomologist at the University of Nevada in Reno.

"It's likely that there are thousands of species like that, that have a pivotal role in even well-studied ecosystems. You think of one of the simplest ecosystems out there, a managed alfalfa field. It looks really simple. It's one species of plant for the most part. There are hundreds of species of insects in alfalfa fields. A lot of them we have no idea what they do. There are a number of studies that show if you lower diversity of those insects in the alfalfa field, it's less productive. But we don't know the mechanism, because we don't know all the interactions between all these insects that are in the alfalfa field. All the components of a diverse system could potentially be important. And there are definitely some in there that we don't know much about that are really important. And that holds for the simplest of ecosystems to the most complex."

Let's say, for example, that a certain parasite is keeping insects that eat alfalfa plants in check. Well, spraying that field with pesticides could kill the useful parasites as well as the insects. So understanding the dynamics of diversity can have a real impact on our food supply and on our health.

Our latest project is a competition for third to sixth graders. Check out kidsciencechallenge.com. Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.