Understanding how loss of biodiversity affects ecosystem functioning, and thus the delivery of ecosystem goods and services, has become increasingly necessary in a changing world. Considerable recent attention has focused on predicting how biodiversity loss simultaneously impacts multiple ecosystem functions (that is, ecosystem multifunctionality), but the ways in which these effects vary across ecosystems remain unclear. Here, we report the results of two 19-year plant diversity manipulation experiments, each established across a strong environmental gradient. Although the effects of plant and associated fungal diversity loss on individual functions frequently differed among ecosystems, the consequences of biodiversity loss for multifunctionality were relatively invariant. However, the context-dependency of biodiversity effects also worked in opposing directions for different individual functions, meaning that similar multifunctionality values across contrasting ecosystems could potentially mask important differences in the effects of biodiversity on functioning among ecosystems. Our findings highlight that an understanding of the relative contribution of species or functional groups to individual ecosystem functions among contrasting ecosystems and their interactions (that is, complementarity versus competition) is critical for guiding management efforts aimed at maintaining ecosystem multifunctionality and the delivery of multiple ecosystem services.

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We thank numerous assistants for help in the field and laboratory. We also thank B. Lindahl and K. Clemmensen for guidance on the fungal component of the work and helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This work was supported by grants to D.A.W. from the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) and a Wallenberg Scholars award.

Author information


  1. Department of Forest Ecology and Management, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeå, Sweden

    • Nicolas Fanin
    • , Michael J. Gundale
    • , Marie-Charlotte Nilsson
    • , Paul Kardol
    •  & David A. Wardle
  2. Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, UMR 1391 Interaction Soil Plant Atmosphere, Bordeaux Sciences Agro, 71 Avenue Edouard Bourlaux, Villenave-d’Ornon, France

    • Nicolas Fanin
  3. CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Locked Bag 2, Glen Osmond, South Australia, Australia

    • Mark Farrell
    •  & Jeff A. Baldock
  4. Institute of Biological Research, Republicii Street 48, Cluj-Napoca, Romania

    • Marcel Ciobanu
  5. Asian School of the Environment, Nanyang Technological University, 50 Nanyang Avenue, Singapore

    • David A. Wardle


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D.A.W. acquired the necessary funding and designed the experiment. N.F., D.A.W., P.K., M.J.G., M.-C.N., M.F., M.C. and J.A.B. collected and analysed the data. N.F. wrote the first draft of the manuscript with substantial improvements by D.A.W. and P.K. All authors contributed to manuscript completion and revision.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Nicolas Fanin.

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