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

Abstract

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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Figure 1: Distribution of observational field studies used in our analysis.
Figure 2: Biodiversity effects on community biomass production are widespread in nature, and more robust when covariates are accounted for.
Figure 3: Comparison of diversity effects on biomass production in observational versus experimental studies.
Figure 4: Biodiversity effects on biomass production are comparable to or greater than those of climate and plant resources.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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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.

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Correspondence to J. Emmett Duffy.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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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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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Comparison of diversity effect sizes on biomass production in observational versus experimental studies, using directly comparable analyses.

Symbols show mean effect sizes as β in the power function y = axβ where x is species richness (SR) and y is biomass or production. Horizontal bands denote the standard error of the parameter estimate.

Extended Data Figure 2 Schematic diagram explaining how log-response ratios (LRR) were calculated for experimental (red) and observational studies (blue).

The top diagram illustrates the calculation for a single experiment; these calculations were then repeated for multiple experiments and summarized in Fig. 3. The bottom diagram illustrates the calculation for a single observational study. Horizontal bands denote the standard error of the mean log response ratio.

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Duffy, J., Godwin, C. & Cardinale, B. Biodiversity effects in the wild are common and as strong as key drivers of productivity. Nature 549, 261–264 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature23886

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