Productivity–species richness relationship changes from unimodal to positive linear with increasing spatial scale in the Inner Mongolia steppe
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Productivity–species diversity relationships have been a controversial research topic in ecology with scale believed to be among the main reasons for discovering different relationships. We collected data on species diversity (richness) and productivity (peak above-ground biomass) of the Stipa breviflora association in the Inner Mongolia grassland to examine spatial scale dependency and possible underlying mechanisms responsible for the relationships found. One local and seven different landscape scales (the first level corresponds in extent to a 100 × 100 km area, which is increased consecutively by 100 km resulting in the 700 × 700 km area at the highest level) were considered. We found that: (1) unimodal relationships dominated the local scale, but this varied depending on the position along successional gradients; (2) a positive linear relationship was common at larger spatial scales; (3) biotic processes were the most likely primary factor underlying local scale unimodal relationships, but environmental heterogeneity (precipitation patterns) was the main determinant of relationships found at larger spatial scales; (4) our study contributed to other empirical evidence and predictions of theoretical models regarding scale dependency of productivity–species richness relationships; (5) while earlier research demonstrated positive linear species richness–productivity relationships across a number of ecological scales in the Inner Mongolia steppe, our study specifically tested a spectrum of geographical scales to confirm the scale-dependency of this relationship. Lastly, our study emphasized the critical role played by precipitation patterns in controlling biodiversity and grassland ecosystem functioning, which maintains the relatively high level of biodiversity and stable ecosystem processes.