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Ordinary Species Could Have Extraordinary Implications

A large fly sits in the foreground with dark brown body, black hairs, tan head and translucent wings. It sits on the lower part of a cluster of tiny white flowers that are part of the common yarrow plant. There are dozens of the little white flowers that create a somewhat flat platform for the fly to land on. There is another cluster to the right and the left of the one the fly is on.
James Maughn
A species of bee fly sits on common yarrow flowers.

We often hear about efforts to support and conserve rare species, like the spotted owl or Joshua trees. But new findings argue that some very ordinary plants and animals deserve our attention, too.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder monitored plants and pollinator species in a Colorado mountain meadow for more than five years. They found a complex web of interactions, with so-called “generalist” species at the center – that is, species that interact with a bunch of other kinds of species.

That includes insects like flies and flowering plants like the common yarrow, which has a little platform of white flowers.

Julian Resasco led that research. He said those kinds of plants and insects persist across larger areas and time frames.

“They kind of act as these linch pins or anchor points that are really important for supporting a lot of biodiversity of plants and pollinators,” he said.

Ultimately, Resasco said they could help stabilize an ecosystem and help rarer species as the climate changes.

“Common species are easy to overlook because we see them everywhere,” he said. “It’s easy to forget how important they are.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Madelyn Beck was Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.

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