Anthropogenic environmental changes affect ecosystem stability via biodiversity

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Science  17 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6232, pp. 336-340
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa1788

Biodiversity protects grassland stability

How biodiversity interacts with ecosystem stability and productivity is key to understanding the impacts of environmental changes on ecosystem functions. In a series of decade-long experiments in temperate grassland, Hautier et al. manipulated nitrogen, water, carbon dioxide, herbivory, and fire. In all cases, plant species diversity was important for preserving ecosystem function during environmental change. Hence, the preservation and restoration of biodiversity buffer ecosystems against anthropogenic assault.

Science, this issue p. 336


Human-driven environmental changes may simultaneously affect the biodiversity, productivity, and stability of Earth’s ecosystems, but there is no consensus on the causal relationships linking these variables. Data from 12 multiyear experiments that manipulate important anthropogenic drivers, including plant diversity, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, fire, herbivory, and water, show that each driver influences ecosystem productivity. However, the stability of ecosystem productivity is only changed by those drivers that alter biodiversity, with a given decrease in plant species numbers leading to a quantitatively similar decrease in ecosystem stability regardless of which driver caused the biodiversity loss. These results suggest that changes in biodiversity caused by drivers of environmental change may be a major factor determining how global environmental changes affect ecosystem stability.

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