Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Biodiversity: The Spice of Life ... or Life Support?

T H E 52nd A N N U A L
H A R O L D J. P L O U S A W A R D L E C T U R E

Bradley Cardinale
Biodiversity: The Spice of Life ... or Life Support?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 / 4:00 PM / FREE
Donald Bren School of Environmental Science& Management / Room 1414

The world is currently in the midst of one of the greatest waves of species extinction that has ever occurred in the history of life. But even as rates of species extinction are approaching those of prior mass extinctions, we know little about the different roles that species play in natural environments. We know even less about how the well-being of our own species might be linked to the great variety of life that is the most striking feature of our planet.

In this lecture, I will evaluate the evidence for a classic ecological hypothesis that Earth's life-support systems depend critically on the variety of species that inhabit our planet. The idea that biological diversity regulates the production of food, the cleanliness of air and water, and outbreaks of pests and disease, has been around since the time of Darwin. But while these 'services' of natural ecosystems are often touted by environmentalists to justify conservation, they have been highly controversial among scientists. Until the 1990's there was very little evidence that could establish any clear link between biological diversity and the rates of biologically essential processes. I will review the explosion of new research that has accumulated on this topic over the last two decades, and I'll begin to ask the difficult, but crucial question of how many species our planet needs to support higher life.

Bradley Cardinale is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at the University of California - Santa Barbara. He received his Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Maryland in 2002, and completed his postdoctoral research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Cardinale's research is aimed at understanding how human alteration of the environment impacts the biological diversity of communities and, in turn, how diversity loss can affect ecological processes that are important to humanity. He has published nearly 60 scientific papers that help guide our efforts to conserve and restore natural ecosystems.

The Harold J. Plous Memorial Award was established in 1957 to honor Harold J. Plous, Assistant Professor of Economics. The award is given annually to a faculty member of the rank of Assistant Professor or Instructor who has demonstrated outstanding performance by creative action or contribution to the intellectual life of the college community.

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