, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 651-664
Date: 06 Oct 2009

The prominence of and biases in biodiversity and ecosystem functioning research

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The sub-discipline of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (BEF) has emerged as a central topic in contemporary ecological research. However, to date no study has evaluated the prominence and publication biases in BEF research. Herein we report the results of a careful quantitative assessment of BEF research published in five core general ecology journals from 1990 to 2007 to determine the position of BEF research within ecology, identify patterns of research effort within BEF research, and discuss their probable proximal and historical causes. The relative importance of BEF publications increased exponentially during the period analyzed and was significantly greater than the average growth of ecological literature, affirming the prominence of BEF as a current paradigm in ecology. However, BEF research exhibited a strong bias toward experimental studies on terrestrial plant communities, with significantly lower effort devoted to the functional aspects of biodiversity in aquatic systems, multiple trophic level systems, and animal or microbial communities. Such trends may be explained by a combination of methodological adequacy and historic epistemological differences in ecological thinking. We suggest that BEF researchers should direct more effort toward the study of aquatic systems and animal communities, emphasize long-term and trophically complex experiments, such as those with multi-trophic microbial communities, employ larger-scale field observational studies and increase the use of integrative and theoretical studies. Many technical and analytical methodologies that are already employed in ecological research, such as stable isotopes, paleobiology, remote sensing, and model selection criteria, can facilitate these aims. Overcoming the above-mentioned shortcomings of current BEF research will greatly improve our ability to predict how biodiversity loss will affect ecosystem processes and services in natural ecosystems.