By Gary Thomas
A study conducted by researchers from IRD has revealed that glaciers play a major role in the creation of biodiversity and their reduction helps to preserve this diversity.
The researchers have been focusing on the future for populations in different waterstreams that are created by meltwater in the equatorial Andes, Alaska and Alps. They have collected samples from approximately 50 different locations in the páramos, which are herbaceous ecosystems especially found in Andean summits at 3,500 m altitude. Ecologists have analyzed that macroinvertebrates, such as Diptera, Trichoptera and Ephemeroptera, extensively live at the base part of glacial torrents and they belong to an extensively researched group with familiar environmental needs and can be taken as a model for scientists.
IRD team has performed the study in three regions: tropical, arctic and temperate. The team has evaluated the reactions of three important factors to the glacial coverage changes: the local taxonomic diversity, at a regional level and the deviations in this diversity between watercourses. The results have revealed that the regional diversity rises while moving further downstream. In addition, the study has revealed that when the glacial coverage is decreased to the level, where it covers just 30 to 50% of the drainage basin, numerous species start to disappear. If the glaciers melt entirely, then up to 40% of species living in waterstreams may become extinct.
The insects are crucial for the working of mountain ecosystems, mainly via decomposition of organic materials that enable soil formation. In addition, they can be useful downstream. Hence, the threat of extinction of numerous species has resulted in fears of the loss of these critical services offered by the ecosystem.