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The relationship between productivity and multiple aspects of biodiversity in six grassland communities


Biodiversity is a multifaceted concept but most studies examining the association between the biodiversity of a community and its productivity focus only on species richness. Consequently, studies are needed to examine how other facets of biodiversity vary with productivity if we want to have a better understanding of the distribution of biodiversity across our planet. We evaluated how a number of biodiversity measures (species richness, evenness, dominance, rarity, Simpson’s diversity, and Shannon–Weiner diversity) varied across natural productivity gradients at 6 grassland sites in the continental US. Variation in productivity did not account for a substantial amount of variation in any measure of biodiversity at small spatial scales (≈1 m2) at most sites. When productivity accounted for substantial variation in biodiversity, different measures of biodiversity responded to productivity in different ways. For example, dominance changed in a U-shaped fashion along a productivity gradient whereas richness increased in an asymptotic fashion. Consequently, diversity indices, which account for both species richness and evenness, varied in a hump-shaped fashion along the productivity gradient. Our results highlight that an exclusive focus on the association between species richness and productivity provides an incomplete picture of how a community’s biodiversity is related to its functioning.

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Annual aboveground net primary productivity


Cedar Creek LTER


Species evenness


Kellog Biological Station LTER


Parkhill prairie


Species richness


Short Grass Steppe LTER


Temple oldfield


Temple prairie


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This study would not have been possible without the provision of data by the Cedar Creek LTER (J. Knopps and D. Tilman), the Kellog Biological Station LTER (K. Gross), and the Shortgrass Steppe LTER (D. Milchunas and J. Moore) programs. The research group at SGS is a partnership between Colorado State University, United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, and the U.S. Forest Service Pawnee National Grasslands. The National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research program provided significant funding for the collection of data (DEB-9632852). Analytical portions of this work were supported by the Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence Program (NSF Grant DEB 99-80154) and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, a Center funded by NSF (Grant DEB-0072909), the University of California, and the Santa Barbara campus. Additional support was provided by Texas Tech University and a USDA-ARS specific cooperative agreement no. 58-6206-0-023 faculty development grant from Iowa State University (BJW). We thank S. Andelman, I. Castro, J. Knopps, D. Milchunas, W. Polley, S. Presley, M. Smith, D. Tilman, H. Vance-Chalcraft and J. Williams for thoughtful comments on drafts of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to David R. Chalcraft.

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Chalcraft, D.R., Wilsey, B.J., Bowles, C. et al. The relationship between productivity and multiple aspects of biodiversity in six grassland communities. Biodivers Conserv 18, 91–104 (2009).

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