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Diversity-dependent production can decrease the stability of ecosystem functioning


There is concern that species loss may adversely affect ecosystem functioning and stability. But although there is evidence that biodiversity loss can lead to reductions in biomass production1,2,3,4, there is no direct evidence that biodiversity loss affects ecosystem resistance (ability to withstand perturbation) or resilience (recovery from perturbation). Yet theory5,6, laboratory experiments7,8,9,10,11 and indirect experimental evidence12,13,14 strongly suggest that diversity and stability are related. Here we report results from a field experiment with factorially crossed perturbation and diversity manipulations. We simulated drought perturbation on constructed grassland ecosystems containing 1, 2, 4, 8 or 32 plant species. Under unperturbed conditions, the species-poor systems achieved lower biomass production than the species-rich systems. However, the species-poor systems were more resistant to perturbation than the species-rich systems. The species-poor systems also showed a larger initial resilience following perturbation, although the original relationship between diversity and productivity was fully restored after 1 year. Our results confirm that biodiversity increases biomass production, but they also point to the fact that such diversity–production associations may lead to an inverse relationship between biodiversity and the stability of ecosystem functioning.

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Figure 1: Possible effects of perturbation on relationships between diversity and ecosystem functioning.
Figure 2: Effects of drought perturbation on the relationship between species richness and production.


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We thank M. Diemer for help with the experimental set-up, M. Fischer, A. Hector, M. Loreau, P. Oertli-Barnett and O. L. Petchey for suggestions on earlier drafts of this manuscript, and numerous helpers in the field for assistance. This project was supported by the Swiss Federal Office for Education and Science as part of the EU-funded BIODEPTH project.

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Correspondence to Bernhard Schmid.

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Pfisterer, A., Schmid, B. Diversity-dependent production can decrease the stability of ecosystem functioning. Nature 416, 84–86 (2002).

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