1/27/11: A paper published in the journal Ecology by PhD student Daniel Allen and  Caryn Vaughn was a featured Research Highlight in the 27 January issue of Nature.  Several decades of research have shown that biodiversity affects trophic ecosystem processes like biomass production and resource acquisition. However, studies investigating if biodiversity can influence non-trophic ecosystem processes, such as the physical creation and modification of habitat, are lacking.  Allen and Vaughn hypothesized that freshwater mussel biodiversity might influence the erosion of riverbed sediments because mussel species differ in burrowing behaviors and shell morphologies that may influence turbulence patterns at the sediment water interface.  They conducted experiments in artificial streams that demonstrated that an increase in mussel species richness is associated with increased sediment erosion.  Further, these effects were additive at low densities, but non-additive at high densities, indicating that organism abundance fundamentally alters the relationship between biodiversity and erosion.  This research demonstrates that biodiversity can influence physical processes in ecosystems, and that changes in abundance may also influence this relationship. droppedImage

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