Plant Diversity ›› 2016, Vol. 38 ›› Issue (01): 1-10.

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An experimental approach to addressing ecological questions related to the conservation of plant biodiversity in China

 Roy Turkington, William L. Harrower   

  1. Botany Department, and Biodiversity Research Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6T 1Z4
  • Received:2015-11-04 Online:2016-02-25 Published:2015-12-06


We briefly introduce and describe seven questions related to community structure and biodiversity conservation that can be addressed using field experiments, and provide the context for using the vast geographic diversity, biodiversity, and network of Nature Reserves in China to perform these experiments. China is the world′s third largest country, has a diverse topography, covers five climatic zones from cold-temperate to tropical, has 18 vegetation biomes ranging from Arctic/alpine tundra and desert to Tropical rain forest, and supports the richest biodiversity in the temperate northern hemisphere (>10% of the world total). But this tremendous natural resource is under relentless assault that threatens to destroy biodiversity and negatively impact the services ecosystems provide. In an attempt to prevent the loss of biodiversity, China has established 2,729 nature reserves which cover 14.84% of the nation′s area. Unfortunately underfunding, mismanagement, illegal activities, invasive species and global climate change threaten the effectiveness of these protected areas. Attention has focused on protecting species and their habitats before degradation and loss of either species or habitats occur. Here we argue that we must move beyond the simple protection of ecosystems, beyond their description, and by using experiments, try to understand how ecosystems work. This new understanding will allow us to design conservation programs, perform restoration of damaged or degraded areas, and address resource management concerns (e.g., agriculture, logging, mining, hunting) more effectively than with the current approach of ad hoc reactions to ecological and environmental problems.We argue that improving our understanding of nature can best be done using well designed, replicated, and typically manipulative field experiments.

Key words: Biodiversity, Climate change, Community structure, Conservation, Ecosystem Function, Ecosystem Services, Experiments, Gradients