A new definition of a decomposer defines it as one that uses chemical decomposition to remove unwanted compounds from the environment.
Researchers at the University of Michigan have published the definition of the new decomposers, in the journal Nature Plants.
The definition defines decomposors as “organisms that use chemical decompositions to remove environmental contaminants and/or biologically harmful substances from their environment.”
The definition is based on the results of a survey of more than 8,000 plants and other biological species.
The new definition is useful for identifying plants that can help in protecting ecosystems from degradation by chemical decomptants, according to the study.
The research team also noted that the definition has implications for identifying a wide range of chemical decompters, including phytotoxic herbicides, organophosphates, and other herbicides.
“While these definitions are a valuable tool to understand the composition and structure of the global environment, we also wanted to recognize that they are a limited tool for assessing the sustainability of the chemical processes that result from these processes,” said study co-author Rong Zhao, a research associate professor in the Department of Plant Science at the U-M College of Natural Resources.
The team developed the new definition by conducting a comprehensive survey of the plant communities in North America, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and South Asia.
The survey included nearly 30,000 plant species from the Global Biome Database.
In addition to providing a global picture of the chemistry of decomposites, the team also studied the chemical composition of decomposes from different regions, using the Global Microbial Diversity Survey, which was recently published.
The study identified chemical decompses in nearly 20 percent of plant species in North American and Middle East.
“It is not clear whether the definition will be applicable to other regions in the world,” Zhao said.
“The study provides a very valuable tool for understanding how chemical decomposes interact with ecosystems, which could help in developing strategies to protect ecosystems from the impacts of chemical and biological contaminants.”
For example, Zhao and his colleagues noted that while decomposable materials can be found in the soil, they can also be found within the water and air, so the use of chemical processes to remove chemicals is not always feasible.
Another problem with the current definition of decompsers is that they typically take years or even decades to decompose.
“This may not be enough time for plants to decompose, and this limitation will limit the amount of information that can be gathered about the health and viability of the ecosystem from a chemical decompose analysis,” Zhao explained.
“To overcome this, the new paper provides a framework that describes the process of decomposition, including the chemical, biological, and economic characteristics of the process.”
Zhao and the team hope that the new research will help improve the definition and provide more information on the health of the environment, as well as the potential health of plant communities.
“Our research highlights how important it is to identify chemical and bioassay methods for the assessment of chemical contaminants in the environment and their potential to affect ecosystems,” Zhao added.
“These are the first steps in developing an ecosystem-wide definition that is more sustainable, effective, and can be used to prioritize the application of biological and chemical management strategies in ecosystems.”
The paper is titled, Chemical Decomposition in Plants: Implications for Conservation and Management.