Nature | Letter
Published online: 10 August 2011
High plant diversity is needed to maintain ecosystem services
Forest Isbell,1 Vincent Calcagno,1 Andy Hector,2 John Connolly,3 W. Stanley Harpole,4 Peter B. Reich,5, 6 Michael Scherer-Lorenzen,7 Bernhard Schmid,2 David Tilman,8 Jasper van Ruijven,9 Alexandra Weigelt,10 Brian J. Wilsey,4 Erika S. Zavaleta11 & Michel Loreau1
Biodiversity is rapidly declining worldwide1, and there is consensus that this can decrease ecosystem functioning and services2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. It remains unclear, though, whether few8 or many9 of the species in an ecosystem are needed to sustain the provisioning of ecosystem services. It has been hypothesized that most species would promote ecosystem services if many times, places, functions and environmental changes were considered9; however, no previous study has considered all of these factors together. Here we show that 84% of the 147 grassland plant species studied in 17 biodiversity experiments promoted ecosystem functioning at least once. Different species promoted ecosystem functioning during different years, at different places, for different functions and under different environmental change scenarios. Furthermore, the species needed to provide one function during multiple years were not the same as those needed to provide multiple functions within one year. Our results indicate that even more species will be needed to maintain ecosystem functioning and services than previously suggested by studies that have either (1) considered only the number of species needed to promote one function under one set of environmental conditions, or (2) separately considered the importance of biodiversity for providing ecosystem functioning across multiple years10, 11, 12, 13, 14, places15, 16, functions14, 17, 18 or environmental change scenarios12, 19, 20, 21, 22. Therefore, although species may appear functionally redundant when one function is considered under one set of environmental conditions7, many species are needed to maintain multiple functions at multiple times and places in a changing world.