Biodiversity is rapidly declining1, and this may negatively affect ecosystem processes2, including economically important ecosystem services3. Previous studies have shown that biodiversity has positive effects on organisms and processes4 across trophic levels5. However, only a few studies have so far incorporated an explicit food-web perspective6. In an eight-year biodiversity experiment, we studied an unprecedented range of above- and below-ground organisms and multitrophic interactions. A multitrophic data set originating from a single long-term experiment allows mechanistic insights that would not be gained from meta-analysis of different experiments. Here we show that plant diversity effects dampen with increasing trophic level and degree of omnivory. This was true both for abundance and species richness of organisms. Furthermore, we present comprehensive above-ground/below-ground biodiversity food webs. Both above ground and below ground, herbivores responded more strongly to changes in plant diversity than did carnivores or omnivores. Density and richness of carnivorous taxa was independent of vegetation structure. Below-ground responses to plant diversity were consistently weaker than above-ground responses. Responses to increasing plant diversity were generally positive, but were negative for biological invasion, pathogen infestation and hyperparasitism. Our results suggest that plant diversity has strong bottom-up effects on multitrophic interaction networks, with particularly strong effects on lower trophic levels. Effects on higher trophic levels are indirectly mediated through bottom-up trophic cascades.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    et al. Global biodiversity scenarios for year 2100. Science 287, 1770–1774 (2000)

  2. 2.

    et al. Effects of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning: a consensus of current knowledge. Ecol. Monogr. 75, 3–35 (2005)

  3. 3.

    Environmental services of biodiversity. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 93, 2764–2769 (1996)

  4. 4.

    et al. Quantifying the evidence for biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning and services. Ecol. Lett. 9, 1146–1156 (2006)

  5. 5.

    et al. Effects of biodiversity on the functioning of trophic groups and ecosystems. Nature 443, 989–992 (2006)

  6. 6.

    et al. in Biodiversity, Ecosystem Functioning, and Human Wellbeing: an Ecological and Economic Perspective (eds S. Naeem et al.) 105–120 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2009)

  7. 7.

    et al. Plant diversity and productivity experiments in European grasslands. Science 286, 1123–1127 (1999)

  8. 8.

    & Effects of plant composition and diversity on nutrient cycling. Ecol. Monogr. 68, 121–149 (1998)

  9. 9.

    et al. Species loss and the structure and functioning of multitrophic aquatic systems. Oikos 104, 467–478 (2004)

  10. 10.

    et al. The functional role of biodiversity in ecosystems: incorporating trophic complexity. Ecol. Lett. 10, 522–538 (2007)

  11. 11.

    et al. Parallel declines in pollinators and insect-pollinated plants in Britain and the Netherlands. Science 313, 351–354 (2006)

  12. 12.

    , & Habitat modification alters the structure of tropical host-parasitoid food webs. Nature 445, 202–205 (2007)

  13. 13.

    et al. Plant species loss decreases arthropod diversity and shifts trophic structure. Ecol. Lett. 12, 1029–1039 (2009)

  14. 14.

    , , , & Numerical responses of different trophic groups of invertebrates to manipulations of plant diversity in grasslands. Oecologia 125, 271–282 (2000)

  15. 15.

    & in Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning (eds Loreau, M., Naeem, S. & Inchausti, P.) 155–168 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2002)

  16. 16.

    & Nontrophic interactions, biodiversity, and ecosystem functioning: an interaction web model. Am. Nat. 171, 91–106 (2008)

  17. 17.

    , , , eds. Ecological Communities: Plant Mediation in Indirect Interaction Webs (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007)

  18. 18.

    et al. Diversity has stronger top-down than bottom-up effects on decomposition. Ecology 90, 1073–1083 (2009)

  19. 19.

    Raaijmakers, C. E., van Ruijen, J., Berendse, F. & van der Putten, W. H. Plant species identity and diversity effects on different trophic levels of nematodes in the soil food web. Oikos 106, 576–586 (2004)

  20. 20.

    , & Effects of grassland plant species diversity, abundance, and composition on foliar fungal disease. Ecology 83, 1713–1726 (2002)

  21. 21.

    Floral diversity and the facilitation of pollination. J. Ecol. 94, 295–304 (2006)

  22. 22.

    & Numerical Ecology (Elsevier, 1998)

  23. 23.

    & Playing chutes and ladders: heterogeneity and the relative roles of bottom-up and top-down forces in natural communities. Ecology 73, 724–732 (1992)

  24. 24.

    , & Community structure, population control, and competition. Am. Nat. 94, 421–425 (1960)

  25. 25.

    et al. in Biodiversity, Ecosystem Functioning & Human Wellbeing (eds Naeem, S. et al.) Ch. 2, 14–29 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2010)

  26. 26.

    et al. Plant diversity effects on soil microorganisms support the singular hypothesis. Ecology 91, 485–496 (2010)

  27. 27.

    Structural Equation Modeling and Natural Systems (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006)

  28. 28.

    The resource-based organization of communities. Biotropica 24, 273–282 (1992)

  29. 29.

    et al. The role of biodiversity for element cycling and trophic interactions: an experimental approach in a grassland community. Basic Appl. Ecol. 5, 107–121 (2004)

Download references


We thank J. M. Tylianakis, P. Batáry, Y. Clough, M. J. Crawley, J. Fox, J. Fründ, D. Gladbach and A. Hector for comments that improved this manuscript. The gardeners, technicians, student helpers and managers of the Jena Experiment are acknowledged for their assistance. This work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (FOR 456).

Author information


  1. Georg-August-University Göttingen, Department of Crop Sciences, Agroecology, Grisebachstrasse 6, 37077 Göttingen, Germany

    • Christoph Scherber
    • , Anne Ebeling
    •  & Teja Tscharntke
  2. Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, Institute of Ecology, Dornburger Strasse 159, 07743 Jena, Germany

    • Christoph Scherber
    • , Wolfgang W. Weisser
    • , Winfried Voigt
    • , Christiane Roscher
    • , Alexandra Weigelt
    • , Eric Allan
    • , Lars W. Clement
    • , Anne Ebeling
    • , Stefan Halle
    • , Ilona Kertscher
    • , Alexandra-Maria Klein
    • , Esther Kowalski
    • , Markus Lange
    • , Dirk Lauterbach
    •  & Ramona Müller
  3. Georg-August-University Göttingen, J. F. Blumenbach Institute of Zoology and Anthropology, Berliner Strasse 28, 37073 Göttingen, Germany

    • Nico Eisenhauer
    • , Stephan Partsch
    • , Alexander Sabais
    •  & Stefan Scheu
  4. University of Minnesota, Department of Forest Resources, 115 Green Hall, 1530 Cleveland Avenue North, St Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA

    • Nico Eisenhauer
  5. Institute of Environmental Sciences, University of Zürich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zürich, Switzerland

    • Bernhard Schmid
    •  & Jana S. Petermann
  6. University of Bern, Plant Sciences, Altenbergrain 21, 3013 Bern, Switzerland

    • Markus Fischer
  7. University of Potsdam, Institute of Biochemistry and Biology, Maulbeerallee 1, 14469 Potsdam, Germany

    • Markus Fischer
    • , Volker Kummer
    •  & Tanja Rottstock
  8. Max-Planck-Institute for Biogeochemistry, Hans-Knöll-Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany

    • Ernst-Detlef Schulze
    • , Cornelius Middelhoff
    • , Jens Schumacher
    •  & Vicky M. Temperton
  9. UFZ Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Department of Community Ecology, Theodor-Lieser-Strasse 4, 06120 Halle, Germany

    • Christiane Roscher
  10. University of Leipzig, Institut für Biologie I, Johannisallee 21-23, 04103 Leipzig, Germany

    • Alexandra Weigelt
  11. Humboldt University, Department of Plant Nutrition, Albrecht-Thaer-Weg 4, 14195 Berlin, Germany

    • Holger Beßler
    •  & Christof Engels
  12. University of Cologne, Cologne Biocenter, Department of Terrestrial Ecology, Zülpicher Strasse 47b, 50674 Cologne, Germany

    • Michael Bonkowski
    •  & Robert Koller
  13. ETH Zurich, Institute of Plant, Animal and Agroecosystem Sciences, LFW C56, Universitätstrasse 2, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland

    • Nina Buchmann
  14. UFZ Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Department of Soil Ecology, Theodor-Lieser-Straße 4, 06102 Halle, Germany

    • François Buscot
    • , Stephan König
    •  & Carsten Renker
  15. Leuphana University of Lueneburg, Institute of Ecology and Environmental Chemistry, Scharnhorststraße 1, 21335 Lüneburg, Germany

    • Alexandra-Maria Klein
  16. Tallinn University of Technology, Tartu College, Puiestee 78, 51008 Tartu, Estonia

    • Annely Kuu
  17. K. I. Skryabin All-Russian Institute of Helminthology, Bolschaya Tcheryomuschkinskaya Street 28, 117218 Moscow, Russia

    • Varvara D. Migunova
  18. NERC Centre for Population Biology, Division of Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot SL5 7PY, United Kingdom

    • Alexandru Milcu
  19. University of British Columbia, Department of Zoology, 6270 University Boulevard, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada

    • Jana S. Petermann
  20. Mainz Museum of Natural History, Reichklarastraße 10, 55116 Mainz, Germany

    • Carsten Renker
  21. Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, Institute of Stochastics, Ernst-Abbe-Platz 2, 07743 Jena, Germany

    • Jens Schumacher
  22. Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, Phytosphere Institute (ICG-3), 52425 Jülich, Germany

    • Vicky M. Temperton


  1. Search for Christoph Scherber in:

  2. Search for Nico Eisenhauer in:

  3. Search for Wolfgang W. Weisser in:

  4. Search for Bernhard Schmid in:

  5. Search for Winfried Voigt in:

  6. Search for Markus Fischer in:

  7. Search for Ernst-Detlef Schulze in:

  8. Search for Christiane Roscher in:

  9. Search for Alexandra Weigelt in:

  10. Search for Eric Allan in:

  11. Search for Holger Beßler in:

  12. Search for Michael Bonkowski in:

  13. Search for Nina Buchmann in:

  14. Search for François Buscot in:

  15. Search for Lars W. Clement in:

  16. Search for Anne Ebeling in:

  17. Search for Christof Engels in:

  18. Search for Stefan Halle in:

  19. Search for Ilona Kertscher in:

  20. Search for Alexandra-Maria Klein in:

  21. Search for Robert Koller in:

  22. Search for Stephan König in:

  23. Search for Esther Kowalski in:

  24. Search for Volker Kummer in:

  25. Search for Annely Kuu in:

  26. Search for Markus Lange in:

  27. Search for Dirk Lauterbach in:

  28. Search for Cornelius Middelhoff in:

  29. Search for Varvara D. Migunova in:

  30. Search for Alexandru Milcu in:

  31. Search for Ramona Müller in:

  32. Search for Stephan Partsch in:

  33. Search for Jana S. Petermann in:

  34. Search for Carsten Renker in:

  35. Search for Tanja Rottstock in:

  36. Search for Alexander Sabais in:

  37. Search for Stefan Scheu in:

  38. Search for Jens Schumacher in:

  39. Search for Vicky M. Temperton in:

  40. Search for Teja Tscharntke in:


C.S., C.M. and J.S. assembled all data. N.E. contributed data for the below-ground food webs. C.S. performed all analyses and wrote the manuscript. C.S. and T.T. are the principal authors, N.E. to A.W. are listed in descending order of the importance of their contributions, and the remaining authors contributed equally. All authors contributed their own data sets, discussed the analysis and results, and commented on the manuscript text.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christoph Scherber.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Figures 1-3 with legends, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Tables 1-2, and 4-10 (see separate file for Table 3) and additional references.

  2. 2.

    Supplementary Table 3

    This file contains a long text file containing output (parameter estimates) from all models fitted during the model selection process.

About this article

Publication history






Further reading


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.