Letter | Published:

Productivity and sustainability influenced by biodiversity in grassland ecosystems

Nature volume 379, pages 718720 (22 February 1996) | Download Citation

Subjects

Abstract

THE functioning and sustainability of ecosystems may depend on their biological diversity1–8. Elton's9 hypothesis that more diverse ecosystems are more stable has received much attention1,3,6,7,10–14, but Darwin's proposal6,15 that more diverse plant communities are more productive, and the related conjectures4,5,16,17 that they have lower nutrient losses and more sustainable soils, are less well studied4–6,8,17,18. Here we use a well-replicated field experiment, in which species diversity was directly controlled, to show that ecosystem productivity in 147 grassland plots increased significantly with plant biodiversity. Moreover, the main limiting nutrient, soil mineral nitrogen, was utilized more completely when there was a greater diversity of species, leading to lower leaching loss of nitrogen from these ecosystems. Similarly, in nearby native grassland, plant productivity and soil nitrogen utilization increased with increasing plant species richness. This supports the diversity–productivity and diversity–sustainability hypotheses. Our results demonstrate that the loss of species threatens ecosystem functioning and sustainability.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    & Extinction (Random House, New York, 1981).

  2. 2.

    The Diversity of Life (Belknap, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1992).

  3. 3.

    Am. Nat. 111, 515–525 (1977).

  4. 4.

    , & Ecol. Applic. 1, 289–302 (1991).

  5. 5.

    & in Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function (eds Schulze, E. D. & Mooney, H. A.) 3–14 (Springer, Berlin, 1993).

  6. 6.

    in Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function (eds Schulze, E. D. & Mooney, H. A.) 361–384 (Springer, Berlin, 1993).

  7. 7.

    & Nature 367, 363–365 (1994).

  8. 8.

    , , , & Nature 368, 734–737 (1994).

  9. 9.

    The Ecology of Invasion by Animals and Plants (Chapman and Hall, London, 1958).

  10. 10.

    Stability and Complexity in Model Ecosystems (Princeton Univ. Press, 1973).

  11. 11.

    Q. Rev. Biol. 50, 237–266 (1975).

  12. 12.

    & Am. Nat. 122, 229–239 (1983).

  13. 13.

    Nature 307, 321–326 (1984).

  14. 14.

    Ecology (in the press).

  15. 15.

    The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (Murray, London, 1859).

  16. 16.

    & BioScience 33, 248–254 (1983).

  17. 17.

    & in Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function (eds Schulze, E. D. & Mooney, H. A.) 15–41 (Springer, Berlin, 1993).

  18. 18.

    , , , & Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B347, 249–262 (1995).

  19. 19.

    & in Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function (eds Schulze, E. D. & Mooney, H. A.) 255–270 (Springer, Berlin, 1993).

  20. 20.

    Nature 371, 113–114 (1994).

  21. 21.

    , & Nature 371, 114 (1994).

  22. 22.

    , & Nature 371, 565 (1994).

  23. 23.

    , , , & Nature 371, 565 (1994).

  24. 24.

    Oikos 58, 3–15 (1990).

  25. 25.

    , & Ecology 71, 1126–1132 (1990).

  26. 26.

    Chabot, B. F. & Mooney, H. A. (eds) Physiological Ecology of North American Plant Communities (Chapman and Hall, New York, 1985).

  27. 27.

    Givnish, T. J. (ed.) On the Economy of Plant Form and Function (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986).

  28. 28.

    Nature 242, 344–347 (1973).

  29. 29.

    & in Species Diversity in Ecological Communities (eds Ricklefs, R. & Schluter, D.) 13–25 (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1993).

  30. 30.

    , , & Science 269, 347–350 (1995).

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA

    • David Tilman
    •  & Johannes Knops
  2. Department of Botany, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3B2, Canada

    • David Wedin

Authors

  1. Search for David Tilman in:

  2. Search for David Wedin in:

  3. Search for Johannes Knops in:

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/379718a0

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.