Letter

Nature 441, 1139-1143 (29 June 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04729; Received 10 February 2006; Accepted 16 March 2006

Diversity and dispersal interactively affect predictability of ecosystem function

Kristin E. France1 and J. Emmett Duffy1

  1. School of Marine Science and Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA

Correspondence to: Kristin E. France1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to K.E.F. (Email: kfrance@vims.edu).

Theory and small-scale experiments predict that biodiversity losses can decrease the magnitude and stability of ecosystem services such as production and nutrient cycling1, 2. Most of this research, however, has been isolated from the immigration and emigration (dispersal) processes that create and maintain diversity in nature3, 4, 5. As common anthropogenic drivers of biodiversity change—such as habitat fragmentation, species introductions and climate change—are mediated by these understudied processes5, 6, 7, it is unclear how environmental degradation will affect ecosystem services3, 4. Here we tested the interactive effects of mobile grazer diversity and dispersal on the magnitude and stability of ecosystem properties in experimental seagrass communities that were either isolated or connected by dispersal corridors. We show that, contrary to theoretical predictions2, 8, 9, 10, 11, increasing the number of mobile grazer species in these metacommunities increased the spatial and temporal variability of primary and secondary production. Moreover, allowing grazers to move among and select patches reduced diversity effects on production. Finally, effects of diversity on stability differed qualitatively between patch and metacommunity scales. Our results indicate that declining biodiversity and habitat fragmentation synergistically influence the predictability of ecosystem functioning.

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