Washington: A new study shows that just as our family histories dictate what we look like and how we act, plant evolutionary history shapes community responses to interacting agents of global change.
Humans are changing the look and function of earth's ecosystems, from the increase of greenhouse gases to the harmful spread of plants and animals to new environments. A major challenge for ecologists is to understand how and why communities respond to factors that underlie global change.
"Our study is the first to experimentally show that plant communities with different evolutionary backgrounds will respond differently to human-caused physical and biological changes," said Rachel Wooliver from the University of Tennessee in the US.
The team used eucalyptus species native to Tasmania, Australia, to compare plant growth in cultures of the same species but are not native.
"We found that only those communities composed of native species within one evolutionary lineage responded significantly to elevated carbon dioxide and nitrogen by taking carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it into biomass," said John Senior from University of Tasmania.
Communities from another lineage showed no response suggesting that they will play a less crucial role in offsetting the rise of carbon dioxide and global warming.
Thus, trees can be used to predict how the spread of non-native species by humans will shape the look and function of future ecosystems.
"The study provides new direction for global change by highlighting that evolutionary history is key to understanding outcomes of plant function with rapid ecological change," added Rachel.
The work is also of use for conservation biologists who aim to determine which species might be at higher risk of becoming extinct in the future, said the researchers.
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.