Worldwide evidence of a unimodal relationship between productivity and plant species richness

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Science  17 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6245, pp. 302-305
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab3916

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Grassland diversity and ecosystem productivity

The relationship between plant species diversity and ecosystem productivity is controversial. The debate concerns whether diversity peaks at intermediate levels of productivity—the so-called humped-back model—or whether there is no clear predictable relationship. Fraser et al. used a large, standardized, and geographically diverse sample of grasslands from six continents to confirm the validity and generality of the humped-back model. Their findings pave the way for a more mechanistic understanding of the factors controlling species diversity.

Science, this issue p. 302


The search for predictions of species diversity across environmental gradients has challenged ecologists for decades. The humped-back model (HBM) suggests that plant diversity peaks at intermediate productivity; at low productivity few species can tolerate the environmental stresses, and at high productivity a few highly competitive species dominate. Over time the HBM has become increasingly controversial, and recent studies claim to have refuted it. Here, by using data from coordinated surveys conducted throughout grasslands worldwide and comprising a wide range of site productivities, we provide evidence in support of the HBM pattern at both global and regional extents. The relationships described here provide a foundation for further research into the local, landscape, and historical factors that maintain biodiversity.

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