Diversity & Ecosystem Resilience

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Science  13 Oct 2000:
Vol. 290, Issue 5490, pp. 233-235
DOI: 10.1126/science.290.5490.233e

The relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem function has been a subject of intense debate among ecologists, especially in recent months. Most of the experimental work on this subject has compared the functional attributes of artificial plant communities constructed with different numbers of species. Griffiths et al. extend these studies to soil microbial communities, in which—rather than constructing communities of different species number—they compare function after reducing diversity by fumigation with chloroform.

After recovery of the populations of the remaining species, Griffiths et al. assessed community attributes such as nitrification, denitrification, decomposer activity, and response to added nutrients. No clear pattern emerged: some functions (decomposition) were enhanced by decreased diversity, while others (nitrification) were depressed. However, the low-diversity communities were consistently less able to recover from an applied perturbation. The implications are that there is some redundancy with respect to function among species in the higher-diversity communities, but that loss of species leads to loss of stability in these soils.

In a theoretical study, Ives et al. examine how such increased resilience to perturbation might arise from increased diversity in complex ecological communities. Their models indicate that such stability arises not from species number per se, but from the diversity across species of responses to environmental fluctuations. — AMS

OIKOS90, 279 (2000); Ecol. Lett.3, 399 (2000).

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