The importance of species within food networks depends more on the type of species and its evolutionary history than where it is found in the world or the other species that surround it. This is one of the main conclusions of the article "Evolutionary Conservation of Species’ Roles in Food Webs”, which was published today in the prestigious journal Science. The article is the result of an international joint effort in which a researcher from Rovira i Virgili University, Marta Sales-Pardo, took part.
Marta Sales-Pardo is part of the URV’s SEES research group and an adjunct professor at the University School of Chemical Engineering
By studying the functions of the species that make up 32 communities all over the world, this research has proved that closely related species tend to have similar degrees of importance. In other words, within a single community, the “key” species can be easily and exclusively identified based on taxonomic information, i.e. by their classification in a hierarchical system within that community. From the perspective of conservation, this research provides a point of departure from which priorities can be set for conservation efforts aimed at certain species and for the protection of ecosystems.
The extinction of a certain species has a certain effect, whether negative or otherwise. But the effect would be of the same magnitude and would have the same impact if another species of the same taxonomic importance went extinct. Up to now studies have focused on individual, well taxonomically characterised species, or conversely, have taken a more global perspective. What this research contributes is the analysis of the impact on the entire trophic network, with patterns that can be extrapolated to all trophic networks all over the world. Therefore, knowing the functions of certain species, it is relatively simple to extrapolate data and imagine what role they would play in the network of a specific ecosystem. Knowing that the disappearance of a species has had negative effects on one ecosystem, for example, would mean more effort could be put into protecting it in another, where it can be predicted that the same thing will happen.
The document is the result of an international joint effort between Dr Daniel B. Stouffer, from the University of Canterbury (biological sciences), Marta Sales-Pardo, from Rovira i Virgili University, M. Irmak Sirer from Northwestern University in Illinois, and Jordi Bascompte from the Doñana Biological Station. Marta Sales-Pardo is part of the URV’s SEES research group and an adjunct professor at the University School of Chemical Engineering. Her role in this research was to develop methods and analyse data. This is not the first time the group has worked together on research projects.
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