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Species diversity enhances ecosystem functioning through interspecific facilitation

Abstract

Facilitation between species is thought to be a key mechanism by which biodiversity affects the rates of resource use that govern the efficiency and productivity of ecosystems1,2,3,4; however, there is no direct empirical evidence to support this hypothesis. Here we show that increasing the species diversity of a functional group of aquatic organisms induces facilitative interactions, leading to non-additive changes in resource consumption. We increased the richness and evenness of suspension-feeding caddisfly larvae (Insecta, Trichoptera) in stream mesocosms and found that the increased topographical complexity of the benthic habitat alters patterns of near-bed flow such that the feeding success of individuals is enhanced. Species diversity reduces ‘current shading’ (that is, the deceleration of flow from upstream to downstream neighbours), allowing diverse assemblages to capture a greater fraction of suspended resources than is caught by any species monoculture. The fundamental nature of this form of hydrodynamic facilitation suggests that it is broadly applicable to freshwater and marine habitats; in addition, it has several analogues in terrestrial ecosystems where fluxes of energy and matter can be influenced by biophysical complexity3,5,6. Thus, changes in species diversity may alter the probability of positive species interactions, resulting in disproportionately large changes in the functioning of ecosystems.

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Figure 1: Effect of species diversity on resource consumption.
Figure 2: Effect of species diversity on flow.

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Acknowledgements

We thank D. Doak, D. Hart, M. Loreau, P. Morin, S. Naeem, K. Sebens, D. Tilman, J. Thomson and T. Welnitz for comments; and S. Brooks for advice on hydrodynamic measurements. This work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation to M.A.P. and to B.J.C.

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Correspondence to Bradley J. Cardinale.

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Cardinale, B., Palmer, M. & Collins, S. Species diversity enhances ecosystem functioning through interspecific facilitation. Nature 415, 426–429 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/415426a

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