Apr 26, 2011

Discovery Files: Cleaner water through biodiversity

Diverse Osmosis

New evidence from the University of Michigan that biodiversity promotes water quality suggests that accelerating species losses may compromise future water quality.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

It Takes a Village.[1]

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

We hear a lot of reports about accelerating losses of species. Does it really matter? Scientists say biodiversity is important in keeping the earth's ecosystem in balance -- from freshening the air to purifying the water. But, some of these benefits have been lacking supporting data.

Now, a groundbreaking or should I say "watershed" study out of the University of Michigan verifies for the first time that biodiversity promotes better water quality.

Streaming: For the study, researchers built 150 miniature model streams with all the riffles, runs and pools you'd find in real streams. They added nitrates, the most common water pollutant and from one to eight species of pollution consuming algae. Each species of algae has evolved to occupy a particular mini-habitat or niche in streams. The more species, the more unique niches are filtered and cleansed.

In the experimental streams with all eight varieties of algae, the water was cleansed about four and a half times faster than streams with just one kind. The scientists say the study adds to the growing evidence that modern mass extinction of species is going to affect humanity in some big, important ways.
We may not need to save the planet as much if we just allow the planet to save itself.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

[1] It takes a village.
--The phrase is attributed to the Nigerian Igbo culture and proverb "Ora na azu nwa" which means it takes the community/village to raise a child. For more detail, please visit

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