Climate may play a bigger role than deforestation in rainforest biodiversity | 1/16/2020 | Staff
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"Save the rainforests" is a snappy slogan, but it doesn't tell the full story of how complicated it is to do just that. Before conservationists can even begin restoring habitats and advocating for laws that protect land from poachers and loggers, scientists need to figure out what's living, what's dying, and which patterns explain why. Tackling these questions—in other words, finding out what drives a region's biodiversity—is no small task.

The better we measure what's in these rainforests, the more likely we are to find patterns that inform conservation efforts. A new study in Biotropica, for instance, crunched numbers on a behemoth dataset on small mammals in South America and found something surprising in the process: that climate may affect biodiversity in rainforests even more than deforestation does.

Noé - De - Sancha - Scientist - Field

Noé de la Sancha, a scientist at the Field Museum in Chicago, professor at Chicago State University, and the paper's lead author, stresses that changing how we measure biodiversity can uncover patterns like these.

"When we think about biodiversity, we usually think about the number of species in a particular place—what we call taxonomic diversity," says de la Sancha. "This paper aims to incorporate better measures of biodiversity that include functional and phylogenetic diversity."

Diversity - Biodiversity - Roles - Play - Ecosystems

Functional diversity looks at biodiversity based on the roles organisms play in their respective ecosystems. Rather than simply counting the species in an area, scientists can use categories—"Do these mammals primarily eat insects, or do they primarily eat seeds?" and "Do they only live on the forest floor, or do they live in trees?" as well as quantitative characters like weight and ear, foot, and tail size, for instance—to determine and quantify how many different ecological roles a habitat can sustain.

Meanwhile, phylogenetic diversity looks at how many branches of the animal family tree are represented in a given area. By this measure,...
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