Abstract

It remains unclear whether biodiversity buffers ecosystems against climate extremes, which are becoming increasingly frequent worldwide1. Early results suggested that the ecosystem productivity of diverse grassland plant communities was more resistant, changing less during drought, and more resilient, recovering more quickly after drought, than that of depauperate communities2. However, subsequent experimental tests produced mixed results3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13. Here we use data from 46 experiments that manipulated grassland plant diversity to test whether biodiversity provides resistance during and resilience after climate events. We show that biodiversity increased ecosystem resistance for a broad range of climate events, including wet or dry, moderate or extreme, and brief or prolonged events. Across all studies and climate events, the productivity of low-diversity communities with one or two species changed by approximately 50% during climate events, whereas that of high-diversity communities with 16–32 species was more resistant, changing by only approximately 25%. By a year after each climate event, ecosystem productivity had often fully recovered, or overshot, normal levels of productivity in both high- and low-diversity communities, leading to no detectable dependence of ecosystem resilience on biodiversity. Our results suggest that biodiversity mainly stabilizes ecosystem productivity, and productivity-dependent ecosystem services, by increasing resistance to climate events. Anthropogenic environmental changes that drive biodiversity loss thus seem likely to decrease ecosystem stability14, and restoration of biodiversity to increase it, mainly by changing the resistance of ecosystem productivity to climate events.

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Acknowledgements

This paper is a product of the STABILITY group funded by sDiv, the Synthesis Centre of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig (DFG FZT 118). M.L. was supported by the TULIP Laboratory of Excellence (ANR-10-LABX-41). B.S. and P.A.N. were supported by the URPP Global Change and Biodiversity of the University of Zurich.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA

    • Forest Isbell
    • , Eric W. Seabloom
    •  & David Tilman
  2. German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Deutscher Platz 5e, 04103 Leipzig, Germany

    • Dylan Craven
    • , Helge Bruelheide
    • , Christiane Roscher
    • , Madhav P. Thakur
    • , Alexandra Weigelt
    •  & Nico Eisenhauer
  3. Institute of Biology, Leipzig University, Johannisallee 21, 04103 Leipzig, Germany

    • Dylan Craven
    • , Madhav P. Thakur
    • , Alexandra Weigelt
    •  & Nico Eisenhauer
  4. Ecological and Environmental Modelling Group, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland

    • John Connolly
  5. Centre for Biodiversity Theory and Modelling, Experimental Ecology Station, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Moulis 09200, France

    • Michel Loreau
  6. Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland

    • Bernhard Schmid
    • , Enrica de Luca
    •  & Pascal A. Niklaus
  7. Department of Biogeography, BayCEER, University of Bayreuth, 95440 Bayreuth, Germany

    • Carl Beierkuhnlein
  8. Department of Terrestrial Ecology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), PO Box 50, 6700 AB Wageningen, The Netherlands

    • T. Martijn Bezemer
    •  & Wim H. van der Putten
  9. Department of Agronomy, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011, USA

    • Catherine Bonin
  10. Institute of Biology, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, 06108 Halle, Germany

    • Helge Bruelheide
  11. Institute of Ecology, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Dornburger Strasse 159, 07743 Jena, Germany

    • Anne Ebeling
  12. Department of Biosciences, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea SA28PP, UK

    • John N. Griffin
  13. USDA FS, Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, RTP, North Carolina 27709, USA

    • Qinfeng Guo
  14. Ecology and Biodiversity Group, Department of Biology, Utrecht University, Padualaan 8, 3584 CH Utrecht, The Netherlands

    • Yann Hautier
  15. Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3RB, UK

    • Andy Hector
  16. Disturbance Ecology, BayCEER, University of Bayreuth, 95440 Bayreuth, Germany

    • Anke Jentsch
  17. Institute of Botany and Landscape Ecology, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University Greifswald, D-17487 Greifswald, Germany

    • Jürgen Kreyling
  18. Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, University of South Bohemia, Branišovská 31, 37005 České Budějovice, Czech Republic

    • Vojtěch Lanta
  19. Institute for Plant Sciences, University of Bern, CH-3013 Bern, Switzerland

    • Pete Manning
  20. Department of Ecology and Ecosystem Management, School of Life Sciences Weihenstephan, Technische Universität München, 85354 Freising, Germany

    • Sebastian T. Meyer
    •  & Wolfgang W. Weisser
  21. Graduate School of Environment and Information Sciences, Yokohama National University, 79-7 Tokiwadai, Hodogaya, Yokohama, Kanagawa, 240-8501, Japan

    • Akira S. Mori
  22. Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, USA

    • Shahid Naeem
  23. US Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory, Temple, Texas 76502, USA

    • H. Wayne Polley
  24. Department of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55108 USA

    • Peter B. Reich
  25. Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, University of Western Sydney, Penrith, New South Wales 2753, Australia

    • Peter B. Reich
  26. UFZ Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Community Ecology, 06120 Halle, Germany

    • Christiane Roscher
  27. Graduate Degree Program in Ecology and Department of Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523, USA

    • Melinda D. Smith
  28. Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106 USA

    • David Tilman
  29. Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, Smyth Hall 0404, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, USA

    • Benjamin F. Tracy
  30. Laboratory of Nematology, Wageningen University and Research Centre, PO Box 8123, 6700 ES Wageningen, The Netherlands

    • Wim H. van der Putten
  31. Nature Conservation and Plant Ecology Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands

    • Jasper van Ruijven
  32. Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011, USA

    • Brian Wilsey

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Contributions

F.I. and N.E. conceived the project; F.I., D.C., J.C., M.L., H.B., A.E., J.N.G., Y.H., A.H., P.M., S.T.M., A.M., K.E.M., S.N., C.R., E.S., M.P.T., J.v.R., A.W., W.W., B.W., and N.E. developed the project at a workshop; F.I. and M.L. defined dimensionless measures of resistance and resilience; F.I., D.C., J.C., B.S., C.B., M.B., C.B., H.B., E.d.L., Q.G., A.H., A.J., J.K., V.L., S.T.M., H.W.P., P.B.R., C.R., D.T., B.T., W.v.d.P., J.v.R., A.W., W.W., B.W., and N.E. contributed experimental data; D.C. assembled data; F.I. analysed data, with substantial input from J.C. and B.S.; and F.I. wrote the paper, with substantial input from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Forest Isbell.

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