A comparison of the strength of biodiversity effects across multiple functions

Abstract

In order to predict which ecosystem functions are most at risk from biodiversity loss, meta-analyses have generalised results from biodiversity experiments over different sites and ecosystem types. In contrast, comparing the strength of biodiversity effects across a large number of ecosystem processes measured in a single experiment permits more direct comparisons. Here, we present an analysis of 418 separate measures of 38 ecosystem processes. Overall, 45 % of processes were significantly affected by plant species richness, suggesting that, while diversity affects a large number of processes not all respond to biodiversity. We therefore compared the strength of plant diversity effects between different categories of ecosystem processes, grouping processes according to the year of measurement, their biogeochemical cycle, trophic level and compartment (above- or belowground) and according to whether they were measures of biodiversity or other ecosystem processes, biotic or abiotic and static or dynamic. Overall, and for several individual processes, we found that biodiversity effects became stronger over time. Measures of the carbon cycle were also affected more strongly by plant species richness than were the measures associated with the nitrogen cycle. Further, we found greater plant species richness effects on measures of biodiversity than on other processes. The differential effects of plant diversity on the various types of ecosystem processes indicate that future research and political effort should shift from a general debate about whether biodiversity loss impairs ecosystem functions to focussing on the specific functions of interest and ways to preserve them individually or in combination.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Volker Kummer (supervised by M.F.), Peter Mwangi, Maike Habekost (supervised by G.G.), Yvonne Kreutziger (supervised by W.W. and Y.O.) and Ramona Müller (supervised by W.V.) for contributing data. The gardeners and technical staff who have worked on the Jena Experiment, for maintaining the site, weeding, mowing and data collection: Steffen Eismann, Steffen Ferber, Silke Hengelhaupt, Sylvia Junghans, Ute Köber, Katja Kunze, Heike Scheffler and Sylvia Creutzburg, Jens Kirchstein, Olaf Kolle, Gerlinde Kratzsch, Anett Oswald, and Ulrike Wehmeier. We would also like to thank a large number of student helpers who were involved in the weeding of the experiment, Cornelius Middelhoff and Jens Schumacher for maintaining the database and Jean-Francois Soussana and Tania Jenkins for comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. This project was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG with additional contributions from the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grant 31003A-107531 to B.S.).

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Correspondence to Eric Allan.

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Communicated by Roland Brandl.

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Allan, E., Weisser, W.W., Fischer, M. et al. A comparison of the strength of biodiversity effects across multiple functions. Oecologia 173, 223–237 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-012-2589-0

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Keywords

  • Bottom-up effects
  • Carbon cycling
  • Ecological synthesis
  • Ecosystem processes
  • Grasslands
  • Jena experiment
  • Nitrogen cycling