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Biodiversity effects in the wild are common and as strong as key drivers of productivity

Nature volume 549, pages 261264 (14 September 2017) | Download Citation


More than 500 controlled experiments have collectively suggested that biodiversity loss reduces ecosystem productivity and stability1,2,3. Yet the importance of biodiversity in sustaining the world’s ecosystems remains controversial4,5,6,7,8, largely because of the lack of validation in nature, where strong abiotic forcing and complex interactions are assumed to swamp biodiversity effects6,7,8,9. Here we test this assumption by analysing 133 estimates reported in 67 field studies that statistically separated the effects of biodiversity on biomass production from those of abiotic forcing. Contrary to the prevailing opinion of the previous two decades that biodiversity would have rare or weak effects in nature, we show that biomass production increases with species richness in a wide range of wild taxa and ecosystems. In fact, after controlling for environmental covariates, increases in biomass with biodiversity are stronger in nature than has previously been documented in experiments and comparable to or stronger than the effects of other well-known drivers of productivity, including climate and nutrient availability. These results are consistent with the collective experimental evidence that species richness increases community biomass production, and suggest that the role of biodiversity in maintaining productive ecosystems should figure prominently in global change science and policy.

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We thank the authors of the original studies summarized here, which are cited in Fig. 1; without these papers this study would not have been possible. J.E.D. was supported by the US National Science Foundation (OCE-1336206) and the Smithsonian Institution. B.J.C. was supported by grants from the University of Michigan’s Energy Institute and the US National Science Foundation’s DIMENSIONS of Biodiversity program (DEB-1046121). S. Brandl contributed the artwork for Fig. 3. This is contribution number 17 from the Smithsonian’s MarineGEO Network.

Author information


  1. Tennenbaum Marine Observatories Network, Smithsonian Institution, 647 Contees Wharf Road, Edgewater, Maryland 21037, USA

    • J. Emmett Duffy
  2. School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan, 440 Church Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA

    • Casey M. Godwin
    •  & Bradley J. Cardinale


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J.E.D. conceived the idea, developed it with B.J.C., and drafted the paper with conceptual and editorial input from all authors. All authors collated the data and contributed to the analyses. C.M.G. drafted the figures.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. Emmett Duffy.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks A. Hector, M. Loreau, P. Morin and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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