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OWU's Amy Downing, Colleagues Published in "Nature"

November 15, 2006

It’s not every day that scientists have their research published in prestigious publications such as “Nature.” But Amy Downing, associate professor of zoology, and six other members of her research group recently celebrated the October 26 appearance of their work entitled “Effects of Biodiversity on the Functioning of Trophic Groups and Ecosystems.”

Downing and her colleagues — representing such academic institutions as Duke University, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Colorado State University — recently spent a week in Borneo, doing their research and brainstorming about where that research was leading them.

“Our paper came out of work being done on biodiversity loss by a network of scientists worldwide,” says Downing, the only scientist from a smaller university who was hand-picked to join the other six. They have been looking at how ecosystem functioning is affected by biodiversity loss—specifically extinction, to be more exact. And that extinction is happening at a fairly incredible rate each year.

“Our group has been trying to look at trends of the effects of biodiversity loss on ecosystems over the last 10 years by looking at more than 100 published studies worldwide,” says Downing, whose main research expertise falls in the area of aquatic diversity. Their research is funded by the National Science Foundation, and is focused on the fact that some 10,000 to 30,000 species are becoming extinct each year — mostly insects — but very notable nonetheless. Fossil records over the course of millions of years have shown an average of only one species per year doomed for extinction.

“That is what really motivated our decade-long research,” she says.

“We are looking at the best ways to conserve the functionality of those ecosystems, while also trying to understand how to best manage surviving species to maintain ecosystem health.”