Saturday, 30 September 2006

Universities are good for biodiversity

Daniel Moerman and George Estabrook from the University of Michigan (at Dearborn and Ann Arbor respectively) compared the number of flowering plant species in university counties with the diversity in neighbouring counties. What they found was that almost every university was slap bang in the middle of a high diversity site, whereas surrounding areas were impoverished. Of the 37 institutions studied, only six missed the top spot, their species diversity exceeded by adjacent counties. (They all made second place, except for the University of Washington, which came in third in its location.)

The pattern also holds true for snails. Research at a snail's pace has tallied the records for that state and found that the highest diversity occurs in counties containing universities. (Nine counties reported NO snail species at all. What the ...?)

So what's the deal? Are universities typically built in areas of high biodiversity? Are they over-run by exotic species, which might bump up the records? Or are the university counties bigger? Does size account for the higher number?

Or is it because universities have a greater density of biologists than the surrounding counties? And those botanists and malacologists (in these cases) concentrate on the immediate area.

Which answer do you favour?

C'mon, people, get off your arses and look further than the end of the campus road.

Read more
Moerman, D.E. & Estabrook, G.F. (2006). The botanist effect: counties with maximal secies richness tend to be home to universities and botanists. Journal of Biogeography (in press)

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