Measuring ecosystem function: consequences arising from variation in biomass-productivity relationships
Species diversity loss is expected to alter ecosystem function, but previous work has demonstrated inconsistent relationships between these two factors. Productivity is the most common measure of ecosystem function, but given the difficulty in measuring productivity, standing biomass or change in biomass are frequently used as proxy measures. A review of the recent ecosystem-function literature revealed that 93% of studies measure productivity as biomass, thereby assuming a strong positive relationship between these two variables. We tested this assumption by measuring biomass and productivity in seagrass beds in the Gulf of Mexico. We found that the relationship between standing biomass and productivity could be positive or negative, depending on site. Change in biomass over months inconsistently underestimated short-term productivity. The relationship between biomass and productivity may depend on plant age, successional stage, or site-specific rates of tissue loss to herbivory, senescence, or disturbance. Our results suggest that if biomass continues to be used as a measure of productivity without justification, highly productive communities that typically show little change in biomass, such as healthy climax communities, will not be interpreted as such. The conflicting results of previous studies investigating the relationship between diversity and productivity may be due to differences in the inherently variable relationship between biomass and productivity at different sites and scales.
KeywordsSeagrass Spatial scale Thalassia testudinum
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