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Local loss and spatial homogenization of plant diversity reduce ecosystem multifunctionality


Biodiversity is declining in many local communities while also becoming increasingly homogenized across space. Experiments show that local plant species loss reduces ecosystem functioning and services, but the role of spatial homogenization of community composition and the potential interaction between diversity at different scales in maintaining ecosystem functioning remains unclear, especially when many functions are considered (ecosystem multifunctionality). We present an analysis of eight ecosystem functions measured in 65 grasslands worldwide. We find that more diverse grasslands—those with both species-rich local communities (α-diversity) and large compositional differences among localities (β-diversity)—had higher levels of multifunctionality. Moreover, α- and β-diversity synergistically affected multifunctionality, with higher levels of diversity at one scale amplifying the contribution to ecological functions at the other scale. The identity of species influencing ecosystem functioning differed among functions and across local communities, explaining why more diverse grasslands maintained greater functionality when more functions and localities were considered. These results were robust to variation in environmental drivers. Our findings reveal that plant diversity, at both local and landscape scales, contributes to the maintenance of multiple ecosystem services provided by grasslands. Preserving ecosystem functioning therefore requires conservation of biodiversity both within and among ecological communities.

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The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement no. 298935 to Y.H. (with A.H. and E.W.S.). This work was generated using data from the Nutrient Network ( experiment, funded at the site scale by individual researchers. Coordination and data management have been supported by funding from the National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network (NSF-DEB-1042132) to E.T.B. and E.W.S, and from the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) programme (NSF-DEB-1234162), and the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota (DG-0001-13). We also thank the Minnesota Supercomputer Institute for hosting project data, and the Institute on the Environment for hosting Network meetings. We thank R. S. L. Veiga for suggestions that improved the manuscript.

Author information

Y.H., F.I. and A.H. developed and framed research questions. Y.H., F.I. and A.H. analysed the data and wrote the paper with contributions and input from all authors. E.T.B., E.W.S., K.L.P. and J.D.B. contributed to data analysis. E.W.S., E.T.B., W.S.H. and E.M.L. are Nutrient Network coordinators. All authors collected data used in this analysis. The author contribution matrix is provided as Supplementary Table 6.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Correspondence to Yann Hautier.

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Supplementary Figures 1–8, Supplementary Tables 1–6

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Further reading

Fig. 1: Local species richness (\(\bar{{\boldsymbol{\alpha }}}\)-diversity) and community dissimilarity (β-diversity) interact to affect average multifunctionality.
Fig. 2: Simulating reduced ecological interactions between local communities did not influence the relationships of plant diversity with average multifunctionality.
Fig. 3: Dissimilarity in functionally important species contributes to ecosystem multifunctionality.