Small surveys can give a big picture

Researchers looked at key interactions to gauge the health of the ecosystem

To understand the health of an entire ecosystem, it may help to start small. By focusing on interactions between key species—like pollinators and flowers—researchers found they could get a good indication of the health of the ecosystem overall. Biologists looked at whether these communities are persistent, or if key species are declining, to gauge how the ecosystem was faring.

“All communities of plants and animals are supported by an underlying network of interactions between species,” said Christopher Kaiser-Bunbury, a researcher at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, England, and one of the authors of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our study—which combines theory, statistics and real-world data—shows that examining a few of these interactions can provide ‘big picture’ conclusions about ecosystem health,” he said. “This information is essential for policymakers, scientists and societies, as we try to tackle the global biodiversity crisis.”

Read more from the University of Exeter.

Header Image: Researchers gather data on ecological communities in Seychelles. Credit: University of Exeter