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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory

Title: Productivity is a poor predictor of plant species richness

item Adler, Peter
item Seabloom, Eric
item Borer, Elizabeth
item Hillebrand, Helmut
item Hautier, Yann
item Hector, Andy
item O'halloran, Lydia
item Harpole, W
item Anderson, J
item Bakker, Jonathan
item Biederman, Lori
item Brown, Cynthia
item Buckley, Yvonne
item Calabrese, Laura
item Chu, Cheng-jin
item Cleland, Elsa
item Collins, Scott
item Cottingham, Kathryn
item Crawley, Michael
item Davies, Kendi
item Decrappeo, Nicole
item Fay, Philip
item Firn, Jennifer
item Frater, Paul
item Gasarch, Eve
item Gruner, Daniel
item Nagenah, Nicole
item Hillerislambers, Janneke
item Humphries, Hope
item Jin, Virginia
item Kay, Adam
item Klein, Julia
item Knops, Johannes
item Kirkman, Kevin
item La Pierre, Kimberly
item Lambrinos, John
item Leakey, Andrew
item Li, Wei
item Macdougall, Andrew
item Mcculley, Rebecca
item Melbourne, Brett
item Mitchell, Charles
item Moore, Joslin
item Morgan, John
item Mortenson, Brent
item Orrock, John
item Prober, Suzanne
item Pyke, David
item Risch, Anita
item Schuetz, Martin
item Stevens, Carly
item Sullivan, Lauren
item Wang, Gang
item Wragg, Peter
item Wright, Justin

Submitted to: Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/3/2011
Publication Date: 9/23/2011
Citation: Adler, P.B., Seabloom, E., Borer, E., Hillebrand, H., Hautier, Y., Hector, A., O'Halloran, L.R., Harpole, W.S., Anderson, J.M., Bakker, J.D., Biederman, L.A., Brown, C.S., Buckley, Y., Calabrese, L., Chu, C., Cleland, E., Collins, S.L., Cottingham, K.L., Crawley, M.J., Davies, K.F., Decrappeo, N.M., Fay, P.A., Firn, J., Frater, P., Gasarch, E.I., Gruner, D., Nagenah, N., Hillerislambers, J., Humphries, H., Jin, V.L., Kay, A., Klein, J.A., Knops, J., Kirkman, K., La Pierre, K.J., Lambrinos, J., Leakey, A.D., Li, W., Macdougall, A., Mcculley, R.L., Melbourne, B.A., Mitchell, C.E., Moore, J., Morgan, J., Mortenson, B., Orrock, J., Prober, S., Pyke, D.A., Risch, A., Schuetz, M., Stevens, C., Sullivan, L.L., Wang, G., Wragg, P., Wright, J. 2011. Productivity is a poor predictor of plant species richness. Science. 333(6050):1750-1753.

Interpretive Summary: Human impacts on the global environment have triggered the sixth major extinction event in Earth's history. Changes in biodiversity alter ecosystem processes and responses to environmental changes, with profound consequences for the goods and services that humans derive from ecosystems. Examining the biodiversity-function relationship may help identify the major factors driving those relationships. We conducted a study to measure plant biodiversity (i.e., species richness) and plant production (i.e., net primary productivity) in 47 grassland communities on five continents. We did not find a simple, general relationship between species richness and productivity because many factors together affect both. Our results show that a better understanding of biodiversity and ecosystem function cannot be based on simplified relationships. Rather, more sophisticated approaches are needed to identify the driving factors and to predict how those may be affected by global environmental changes.

Technical Abstract: For 30 years, the relationship between net primary productivity and species richness has generated intense debate in ecology about the processes regulating fine-scale species richness. The true relationship was thought to be hump-shaped, with richness peaking at intermediate levels of productivity, until recent meta-analyses questioned the generality of this pattern. However, the meta-analyses have been criticized for failing to account for methodological differences among studies. We addressed these concerns by conducting standardized sampling in 47 herbaceous-dominated plant communities on five continents. Despite our use of consistent methodology, we found no clear relationship between productivity and richness at site, regional, or global scales. Our results show that improved data sets are unlikely to reveal a simple, general relationship between productivity and species richness. Instead, ecologists should focus on more sophisticated, mechanistic approaches to understand the multivariate links between productivity and richness.

Last Modified: 06/21/2017
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