Biodiversity and Productivity

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Science  23 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6050, pp. 1709-1710
DOI: 10.1126/science.1212453

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Researchers predict that human activities—especially landscape modification and climate change—will have a considerable impact on the distribution and abundance of species at local, regional, and global scales in the 21st century (1, 2). This is a concern for a number of reasons, including the potential loss of goods and services that biodiversity provides to people (3, 4). Exactly how biodiversity relates to ecosystem function and productivity, however, has been a widely studied and highly controversial issue over the past few decades. Initially, for example, many researchers believed that the relationship between species richness and net primary productivity (often expressed as the number of grams of carbon produced within a square meter of an ecosystem over a year) could be visualized as a hump-shaped or modal curve (5), with richness first rising and then declining with increasing productivity. However, subsequent theoretical and empirical research, including meta-analyses, seriously diminished acceptance of the modal pattern as a canonical relationship (611). On page 1750 of this issue, Adler et al. (12) carry the critique a step further. In a multiscale assessment of 48 plant communities on five continents, they demonstrate that the modal productivity-diversity pattern is quite rare in nature, rather than the dominant relationship. Their findings suggest that ecological understanding may advance more rapidly if investigators focus on exploring a range of topics that are germane to the productivity-diversity relationship in a changing world, rather than continue the search for a dominant pattern.