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Environment

San Diego Researcher: Rainforests Thrive Because Of Diversity

Cattle graze in a deforested area near Novo Progresso in the northern state of Para, Brazil, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009.
Andre Penner / AP
Cattle graze in a deforested area near Novo Progresso in the northern state of Para, Brazil, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009.

A San Diego researcher said the diversity of species appears to be a key survival condition in some of the world’s richest habitats.

The research focused on forested lands in 16 plots in Panama, China, Puerto Rico and elsewhere.

Nearly 50 scientists examined decades worth of data on the complex ecosystems in tropical rainforests.

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UC San Diego evolutionary biologist Chris Wills said the data revealed complex webs of interconnections and the species in these rich environments rely on and interact with each other.

“The species that are distantly related to each other can influence each other strongly,” he said. “And species that are closely related don’t necessarily influence each other strongly. This was a big surprise to us.”

The research will be used to help figure out specific influences that are essential for a habitat to thrive, he said.

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The professor emeritus said having a wide variety of plants, animals and microbes is precisely what makes the ecosystems healthy.

“If we can use some of these data to get an idea just what is absolutely essential and what has to be preserved my hunch is that we’ll discover an awful lot of it has to be preserved," Wills said. "If we’re going to keep an ecosystem so it will stay a pretty healthy ecosystem.”

Researchers use a detailed computational tool to compile the information from the historical data.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology.