Tuesday, August 29 2017
Georgia Tech, EBB 1005
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Global Change, Biodiversity Loss, and Functioning of the Earth System

Understanding how ecosystems work is of increasing practical importance as humans put greater pressure on them. Productivity and resilience are ultimately set by environmental factors, but vary widely within these limits as the kinds of organisms that inhabit them change. As experiments converged on the conclusion that productivity and stability increase with biodiversity, the question has shifted to how biodiversity affects ecosystem processes in the complex milieu of wild nature. Synthesis of observational data reaches a surprising conclusion: system-level production is often as strongly related to the species composition and richness of organisms—biodiversity, broadly speaking—as it is to climate and resource availability. This pattern has been documented in a range of terrestrial and aquatic systems. Of course biodiversity is strongly shaped by abiotic factors, so environment and biodiversity are not independent influences on ecosystem functioning. But human impacts are unraveling the evolved relationships between them, emphasizing that reliable forecasts of ecosystem services in the Anthropocene will depend as much on biodiversity as on underlying physical forcing.

Emmett Duffy is Director of the Smithsonian’s Tennenbaum Marine Observatories Network, which coordinates the developing MarineGEO program. MarineGEO is building a worldwide partnership to administer an annual health exam for coastal marine life: documenting how and why coastal sea life is changing, and how that change affects resilience of the marine ecosystems humans depend on. The research focuses on biological diversity as the heart of healthy marine ecosystems and how they respond together to global change. Duffy is a marine biologist who has worked in seagrass and coral reef ecosystems around the world. He has contributed to scientific syntheses linking biodiversity to ecosystem health, the US National Climate Assessment, and visioning for development of an international Marine Biodiversity Observation Network. He was awarded an Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellowship in 2006, Japan’s inaugural Kobe Prize in Marine Biology in 2011, and a Virginia Outstanding Faculty award in 2013. Duffy came to the Smithsonian in 2013 after 19 years at the College of William and Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

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Host: Mark Hay