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Biologist's research warns of the growing global impacts of extinction

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WWU Biology professor David Hooper and graduate student Leslie Gonzalez measure plant diversity and productivity in experimental grassland plots in California.

Loss of biodiversity appears to harm ecosystems as much as climate change, pollution and other forms of environmental calamity, according to a new study from an international research team headed by Western Biology Professor Dave Hooper and published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature last summer.

Until now, it was unclear how biodiversity losses stack up against other human-caused environmental changes that affect ecosystem health and productivity.

“Some people have assumed that biodiversity effects are relatively minor compared to other environmental stressors,” says Hooper, the lead author of the Nature paper. “Our new results show that future loss of species has the potential to affect plant production just as much as global warming and pollution.”

Hooper and his team combined data from more than 190 studies to build a database to compare to global environmental stressors.

Studies over the last two decades demonstrate that biologically diverse ecosystems are more productive. As a result, there has been growing concern that the very high rates of modern extinctions – due to habitat loss, overharvesting and other human-caused environmental changes – could reduce nature’s ability to provide food, clean water and a stable climate.

“The balance of scientific evidence brought together by this study clearly shows that sound management of biological diversity is one of the key issues in sustainable management of the planet,” Hooper says.