Community Ecology

, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 165–170 | Cite as

Increasing plant diversity does not influence productivity: empirical evidence and potential mechanisms

  • N. C. KenkelEmail author
  • D. A. Peltzer
  • D. Baluta
  • D. Pirie
Open Access


The relationship between species diversity and ecosystem functions has generated considerable debate among ecologists. Ecosystem functions (e.g. productivity, nutrient retention) are often positively correlated with species richness in experimental plant assemblages, but little or no correlation exists in natural communities. We examined the effects of species richness on productivity and available soil nitrate by experimentally manipulating richness using random draws from a pool of ten perennial grasses. Species richness had no significant effect on aboveground productivity or soil nitrate availability, suggesting that functional diversity may be more important than species richness in determining ecosystem functions. The relationship between diversity and ecosystem functions may also depend on resource limitation. A positive relationship is expected when below-ground resources are limiting, but the relationship is expected to weaken when below-ground resource supply rates are higher and competition for light becomes more important. Further experiments are required to determine the mechanisms underlying diversity-productivity relationships.


Diversity Ecosystem function Field experiment Grasses Prairie plants Productivity Soil nitrate Species richness Stability 



coefficient of variation.


  1. Aarssen, L.W. 1997. High productivity in grassland ecosystems: effected by species diversity or productive species? Oikos 80: 183–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Chapin III, F.S., O.E. Sala, I.C. Burke, J.P. Grime, D.U. Hooper, W.K. Lauenroth, A. Lombard, H.A. Mooney, A.R. Mosier, S. Naeem, S.W. Pacala, J. Roy, W.L. Steffen and D. Tilman. 1998. Ecosystem consequences of changing biodiversity. Bioscience 48: 45–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Doak, D.F., D. Bigger, E.K. Harding, M.A. Marvier, R.E. O’Malley and D. Thomson. 1998. The statistical inevitability of stability-diversity relationships in community ecology. Am. Nat. 151: 264–276.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  4. Ehrlich, P.R. and H.A. Mooney. 1983. Extinction, substitution, and ecosystem services. Bioscience 33: 248–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Environment Canada. 1993. Canadian climate normals: 1961–1990. Vol. 2. Prairie Provinces. Environment Canada, Ottawa.Google Scholar
  6. Ewel, J.J., M.J. Mazzarino and C.W. Berish. 1991. Tropical soil fertility changes under monocultures and successional communities of different structure. Ecol. Appl. 1: 289–302.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  7. Frank, D.A. and S.J. McNaughton. 1991. Stability increases with diversity in plant communities: empirical evidence from the 1988 Yellowstone drought. Oikos 62: 360–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Garnier, E., M.L. Navas, M.P. Austin, J.M. Lilley and R.M. Gifford 1997. A problem for biodiversity-productivity studies: how to compare the productivity of multispecific plant mixtures to that of monocultures. Acta Oecologia 18: 657–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Givnish, T.J. 1986. On the economy of plant form and function. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  10. Givnish, T.J. 1994. Does diversity beget stability? Nature 371: 113–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Grime, J.P. 1979. Plant strategies and vegetation processes. Wiley, Chichester.Google Scholar
  12. Grime, J.P., K. Thompson, R. Hunt, J.G. Hodgson, J.H.C. Cornelissen, I.H. Rorison, G.A.F. Hendry, T.W. Ashenden, A.P. Askew, S.R. Band, R.E. Booth, C.C. Bossard, B.D. Campbell, J.E.L. Cooper, A.W. Davison, P.L. Gupta, W. Hall, D.W. Hand, M.A. Hannah, S.H. Hillier, D.J. Hodkinson, A. Jalili, Z. Liu, J.M.L. Mackey, N. Matthews, M.A. Mowforth, A.M. Neal, R.J. Reader, K. Reiling, W. Ross Fraser, R.E. Spencer, F. Sutton, D.E. Tasker, P.C. Thorpe and J. Whitehouse. 1997. Integrated screening validates primary axes of specialisation in plants. Oikos 79: 259–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Harper, J.L. 1977. Plant population biology. Academic Press, London.Google Scholar
  14. Hector, A., B. Schmid, C. Beierkuhnlein, M.C. Caldeira, M. Diemer, P.G. Dimitrakopoulos, J.A. Finn, H. Freitas, J.S. Giller, J. Good, R. Harris, P. Högberg, K. Huss-Danell, J. Joshi, A. Jumpponen, C. Körner, P.W. Leadley, M. Loreau, A. Minns, C.P.H. Mulder, G. O’Donovan, S.J. Otway, J.S. Pereira, A. Prinz, D.J. Read, M. Scherer-Lorenzen, E.-D. Schulze, A.-S.D. Siamantziouras, E.M. Spehn, A.C. Terry, A.Y. Troumbis, F.I. Woodward, S. Yachi and J.H. Lawton. 1999. Plant diversity and productivity in European grasslands. Science 286: 1123–1127.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  15. Hobbie, S.E. 1992. Effects of plant species on nutrient cycling. Trends Ecol. Evol. 7: 336–339.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  16. Hooper, D.U. and P.M. Vitousek. 1997. The effects of plant composition and diversity on ecosystem processes. Science 277: 1302–1305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hooper, D.U. and P.M. Vitousek. 1998. Effects of plant composition and diversity on nutrient cycling. Ecol. Monogr. 68: 121–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Huston, M.A. 1997. Hidden treatments in ecological experiments: re-evaluating the ecosystem function of biodiversity. Oecologia 110: 449–460.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  19. Huston, M.A. and D.L. DeAngelis. 1994. Competition and coexistence: the effects of resource transport and supply rates. Am. Nat. 144: 954–977.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Huston, M.A. and T.M. Smith. 1987. Plant succession: life history and competition. Am. Nat. 130: 168–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Joliffe, P.A. 1997. Are mixed populations of plant species more productive than pure stands? Oikos 80: 595–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Jones, C. and J.H. Lawton. 1995. Linking species and ecosystems. Chapman and Hall, New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. Vol. 1. Checklist. Timber Press, Portland.Google Scholar
  24. Keay, J. and P.M.A. Menagé. 1970. Automated determination of ammonium and nitrate in soil extracts by distillation. Analyst 95: 379–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lawton, J.H. and V.K. Brown. 1993. Redundancy in ecosystems. In: Schulze, E.D. and H.A. Mooney (eds.). Biodiversity and ecosystem function. Springer, New York. pp. 255–270.Google Scholar
  26. May, R.M. 1974. Stability and complexity in model ecosystems. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton.Google Scholar
  27. McKane, R.B., D.F. Grigal and M.P. Russelle. 1990. Spatiotemporal differences in 15N uptake and the organization of an old-field plant community. Ecology 71: 1126–1132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. McNaughton, S.J. 1977. Diversity and stability of ecological communities: a comment on the role of empiricism in ecology. Am. Nat. 111: 515–525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. McNaughton, S.J. 1993. Biodiversity and the function of grazing ecosystems. In: Schulze, E.D. and H.A. Mooney (eds.). Biodiversity and ecosystem function. Springer, New York. pp. 361–384.Google Scholar
  30. Naeem, S. 1998. Species redundancy and ecosystem reliability. Conserv. Biol. 12: 39–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Naeem, S. and S. Li. 1997. Biodiversity enhances ecosystem reliability. Nature 390: 507–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Naeem, S., L.J. Thompson, S.R Lawler, J.H. Lawton and R.M. Woodfin. 1994. Declining biodiversity can alter the performance of ecosystems. Nature 368: 734–737.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Naeem, S., L.J. Thompson, S.R. Lawler, J.H. Lawton and R.M. Woodfin. 1995. Empirical evidence that declining species diversity may alter the performance of terrestrial ecosystems. Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. London B 347: 249–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pimm, S.L. 1984. The complexity and stability of ecosystems. Nature 307: 321–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Richter, D.D., D. Markewitz, C. G. Wells, H.L. Allen, R. April, P.R. Heine and B. Urrego. 1994. Soil chemical change during three decades in an old-field loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) ecosystem. Ecology 75: 1463–1473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sankaran, M. and S.J. McNaughton. 1999. Determinants of biodiversity regulate compositional stability of communities. Nature 401: 691–693.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Schulze, E.D. and H.A. Mooney. 1993. Biodiversity and ecosystem function. Springer, New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Schwartz, M.W., C.A. Brigham, J.D. Hoeksema, K.G. Lyons, M.H. Mills and P.J. van Martgem. 2000. Linking biodiversity to ecosystem function: implications for conservation ecology. Oecologia 122: 297–305.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  39. Tilman, D. 1999. The ecological consequences of changes in biodiversity: a search for general principles. Ecology 80: 1455–1474.Google Scholar
  40. Tilman, D., C.L. Lehman and C.E. Bristow. 1998. Diversity-stability relationships: statistical inevitability or ecological consequence? Am. Nat. 151: 277–282.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  41. Tilman, D. and J.A. Downing. 1994. Biodiversity and stability in grasslands. Nature 367: 363–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Tilman, D., J. Knops, D. Wedin, P. Reich, M. Ritchie and E. Siemann 1997a. The influence of functional diversity and composition on ecosystem function. Science 277: 1300–1302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Tilman, D., C. Lehman and K. Thompson. 1997b. Plant diversity and ecosystem productivity: theoretical considerations. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. (USA) 94: 1857–1861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Tilman, D., D. Wedin and J. Knops. 1996. Productivity and sustainability influenced by biodiversity in grassland ecosystems. Nature 319: 118–720.Google Scholar
  45. Vandermeer, J.H. 1989. The ecology of intercropping. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Waide, R.B., M.R. Willig, C.F. Steiner, G. Mittelbach, L. Cough, S.I. Dodson, G.P. Juday and R. Parmenter. 1999. The relationship between productivity and species richness. Ann. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 30: 257–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Walker, B.H. 1992. Biodiversity and ecosystem redundancy. Conserv. Biol. 6: 18–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Walker, B.H. 1995. Conserving biological diversity through ecosystem resilience. Conserv. Biol. 9: 747–752.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wardle, D.A. 1999. Is “sampling effect” a problem for experiments investigating biodiversity-ecosystem function relationships? Oikos 82: 403–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Wardle, D.A., K.I. Bonner and K.S. Nicholson. 1997a. Biodiversity and plant litter: experimental evidence which does not support the view that enhanced species richness improved ecosystem function. Oikos 79: 247–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wardle, D.A. and K.S. Nicholson. 1996. Synergistic effects of grassland plant species on soil microbial biomass and activity: implications for ecosystem-level effects of enriched plant diversity. Funct. Ecol. 10: 410–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wardle, D.A., O. Zackrisson, G. Hörnberg and C. Gallet. 1997b. Biodiversity and ecosystem properties. Science 277: 1296–1299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wedin, D.A. and D. Tilman. 1990. Species’ effects on nitrogen cycling: a test with perennial grasses. Oecologia 84: 433–441.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  54. Wilson, E.O. 1992. The diversity of life. Norton, New York.Google Scholar
  55. Zar, J.H. 1984. Biostatistical analysis. Prentice-Hall, New York.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest 2000

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. C. Kenkel
    • 1
    Email author
  • D. A. Peltzer
    • 2
  • D. Baluta
    • 1
  • D. Pirie
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BotanyUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of ReginaReginaCanada

Personalised recommendations