Ecological Research

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 17–25

The relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in food webs

Special Feature Relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning across different scales

DOI: 10.1007/s11284-005-0127-9

Cite this article as:
Thébault, E. & Loreau, M. Ecol Res (2006) 21: 17. doi:10.1007/s11284-005-0127-9


Recent theoretical and experimental work provides clear evidence that biodiversity loss can have profound impacts on functioning of natural and managed ecosystems and the ability of ecosystems to deliver ecological services to human societies. Work on simplified ecosystems in which the diversity of a single trophic level is manipulated shows that diversity can enhance ecosystem processes such as primary productivity and nutrient retention. Theory also strongly suggests that biodiversity can act as biological insurance against potential disruptions caused by environmental changes. However, these studies generally concern a single trophic level, primary producers for the most part. Changes in biodiversity also affect ecosystem functioning through trophic interactions. Here we review, through the analysis of a simple ecosystem model, several key aspects inherent in multitrophic systems that may strongly affect the relationship between diversity and ecosystem processes. Our analysis shows that trophic interactions have a strong impact on the relationships between diversity and ecosystem functioning, whether the ecosystem property considered is total biomass or temporal variability of biomass at the various trophic levels. In both cases, food-web structure and trade-offs that affect interaction strength have major effects on these relationships. Multitrophic interactions are expected to make biodiversity–ecosystem functioning relationships more complex and non-linear, in contrast to the monotonic changes predicted for simplified systems with a single trophic level.


BiodiversityEcosystem functioningStabilityTrophic interactionsTop-down control

Copyright information

© The Ecological Society of Japan 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratoire d’EcologieUMR 7625, Ecole Normale SupérieureParis Cedex 05France