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Diversity and dispersal interactively affect predictability of ecosystem function


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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Figure 1: Species pool size affects grazer diversity at multiple spatial scales.
Figure 2: Metacommunity richness and dispersal affect the magnitude of ecosystem properties at multiple trophic levels.
Figure 3: Diversity effects on ecosystem variability are modified by dispersal and spatial scale.


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We would like to thank J. P. Richardson, L. M. Ladwig and the Marine Biodiversity Laboratory at VIMS for help. This work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (to J.E.D.) and the Lerner-Gray Fund for Marine Research (to K.E.F.). K.E.F. was supported by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and an EPA STAR Fellowship. Author Contributions K.E.F. planned and executed the experiment and wrote the manuscript. J.E.D. contributed to the planning and writing process.

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Correspondence to Kristin E. France.

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Supplementary Notes

This file contains Supplementary Figure 1, Supplementary Methods and Supplementary Tables 1–4. (DOC 2389 kb)

Supplementary Figure 1

This file contains a high- resolution version of Supplementary Figure 1. Conceptual diagram of effects of species pool size and dispersal on spatial and temporal variability within the experimental metacommunities. (PDF 115 kb)

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France, K., Duffy, J. Diversity and dispersal interactively affect predictability of ecosystem function. Nature 441, 1139–1143 (2006).

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