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Extra resources for Nature (Vol. 437, No. 7061, 13 October 2005)

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Such changes are triggered by altered gene expression, and include a progressive loss of physiological functions, a decrease of fertility and a greater vulnerability to disease or damage. It has long been believed that senescence is an inevitable consequence of ageing in all plants and animals. Evidence from diverse disciplines has challenged this assumption for animals2, however, and there are indications that it may also not apply to trees. First, there is a difference between cellular, tissue or organ senescence and whole-tree senescence.

Adi R. Bulsara is at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, 53560 Hull Street, San Diego, California 92152-5001, USA, and is a visiting scientist at the US Office of Naval Research Global, London, UK. mil 1. Wiesenfeld, K. & Moss, F. Nature 373, 33–36 (1995). 2. Bulsara, A. & Gammaitoni, L. Phys. Today 49(3), 39–45 (1996). 3. Badzey, R. L. & Mohanty, P. Nature 437, 995–998 (2005). 4. Feynman, R. , Leighton, R. B. & Sands, M. The Feynman Lectures on Physics Vol. 1, Ch. 38 (Addison-Wesley, Redwood, CA, 1989).

They found no relationship between grassland diversity (estimated by a measure known as the Shannon index) and above-ground productivity. But they show that below-ground productivity increased as a response to drought in the more diverse sites. Under these stressed conditions, the plant community as a whole is evidently diverting more of its fixed carbon to root production than to shoot production. In Kahmen and colleagues’ experiment, it was not possible to separate root biomass into its component species, so there is no information about which species of plants are shifting their resources to root growth.

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