, Volume 174, Issue 3, pp 979-992
Date: 09 Nov 2013

Effects of species evenness and dominant species identity on multiple ecosystem functions in model grassland communities

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Abstract

Ecosystems provide multiple services upon which humans depend. Understanding the drivers of the ecosystem functions that support these services is therefore important. Much research has investigated how species richness influences functioning, but we lack knowledge of how other community attributes affect ecosystem functioning. Species evenness, species spatial arrangement, and the identity of dominant species are three attributes that could affect ecosystem functioning, by altering the relative abundance of functional traits and the probability of synergistic species interactions such as facilitation and complementary resource use. We tested the effect of these three community attributes and their interactions on ecosystem functions over a growing season, using model grassland communities consisting of three plant species from three functional groups: a grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum), a forb (Plantago lanceolata), and a N-fixing forb (Lotus corniculatus). We measured multiple ecosystem functions that support ecosystem services, including ecosystem gas exchange, water retention, C and N loss in leachates, and plant biomass production. Species evenness and dominant species identity strongly influenced the ecosystem functions measured, but spatial arrangement had few effects. By the end of the growing season, evenness consistently enhanced ecosystem functioning and this effect occurred regardless of dominant species identity. The identity of the dominant species under which the highest level of functioning was attained varied across the growing season. Spatial arrangement had the weakest effect on functioning, but interacted with dominant species identity to affect some functions. Our results highlight the importance of understanding the role of multiple community attributes in driving ecosystem functioning.

Communicated by Bryan Foster.