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Revisiting the biodiversity–ecosystem multifunctionality relationship


A recent and prominent claim for the value of biodiversity is its importance for sustaining multiple ecosystem functions. The general idea is intuitively appealing: since all species are to some extent unique, each will be important for a different set of functions. Therefore, as more functions are considered, a greater diversity of species is necessary to sustain all functions simultaneously. However, we show here that the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning does not change with the number of functions considered. Biodiversity affects the level of multifunctionality via non-additive effects on individual functions, and the effect on multifunctionality equals the average effect on single functions. These insights run counter to messages in the literature. In the light of our simulations, we present limitations and pitfalls with current methods used to study biodiversity–multifunctionality, which together provide a perspective for future studies.

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Figure 1: Two scenarios for the relationship between biodiversity and multifunctionality.
Figure 2: The slope between species richness and average multifunctionality in relation to the number of functions and species considered.
Figure 3: The effect of standardization choice on the result of the multi-threshold approach.


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We would like to thank M. Jonsson, J. Griffin and J. Bengtsson for providing valuable feedback and comments on earlier drafts. This work was supported by grant 621-2009-5457 from the Swedish research council VR to L.G.

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Study idea by L.G.; L.G. and F.R. designed the study; F.R. wrote the script for the analyses; L.G. and F.R. interpreted the analyses and wrote the paper.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Lars Gamfeldt or Fabian Roger.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Gamfeldt, L., Roger, F. Revisiting the biodiversity–ecosystem multifunctionality relationship. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 0168 (2017).

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