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Media invitation: How many species in Noah's Arc?

Media invitation: How many species in Noah's Arc?

Scientists gather in Mallorca (Spain) to assess the role of biodiversity in ecosystem function.

The remarkable increase, towards the end of 20th Century in the rate of species extinctions and the loss of biological diversities in the planet's ecosystems have generated considerable concern on the consequences that, beyond the severe damage of the losses themselves, these losses may have on the functioning of ecosystems, and the integrity of the services these functions deliver to society (e.g. material and gas cycling, erosion prevention, food and raw materials provision, among others).The solution of this, apparently simple, question has revealed far more elusive than anticipated, except for the clear loss of functionality associated to the loss of keystone species, which represent, however, less than one in a million of the species on Earth. The issue is then, may the other species disappear without any significant loss to ecosystem function? What kind of research is necessary to test the functional role of species in the ecosystems? Beyond the importance of solving this question to predict, and if possible prevent, the consequences of the global loss of biodiversity, the answer to these questions may open avenues of future progress by, for instance, allowing the design of minimalistic, but entirely functional, ecosystems that may recreate the functions they fulfill on Earth in interplanetary travel or even in extraterrestrial colonies. The rethoric question of what minimal set of species should Noah's Arc contain will soon be a question with important practical consequences.

In order to discuss and attempt to solve these issues, more than 200 scientists from all over the world will gather at Palma de Mallorca (Spain), between May 17 and 21, 2005. The meeting organised by Spanish scientists (IMEDEA, CSIC-UIB), articulates networks of scientists focussed on the role of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning (LINKECOL, www.esf.org , financed by the European Science Foundation, and MARBEF Network of Excellence, www.marbef.org, Funded by Framework Programme 6 of the European Union).

European Science Foundation (ESF). May 11, 2004.

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