Biodiversity impacts ecosystem productivity as much as resources, disturbance, or herbivory
Although the impacts of the loss of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning are well established, the importance of the loss of biodiversity relative to other human-caused drivers of environmental change remains uncertain. Results of 11 experiments show that ecologically relevant decreases in grassland plant diversity influenced productivity at least as much as ecologically relevant changes in nitrogen, water, CO2, herbivores, drought, or fire. Moreover, biodiversity became an increasingly dominant driver of ecosystem productivity through time, whereas effects of other factors either declined (nitrogen addition) or remained unchanged (all others). In particular, a change in plant diversity from four to 16 species caused as large an increase in productivity as addition of 54 kg⋅ha−1⋅y−1 of fertilizer N, and was as influential as removing a dominant herbivore, a major natural drought, water addition, and fire suppression. A change in diversity from one to 16 species caused a greater biomass increase than 95 kg⋅ha−1⋅y−1 of N or any other treatment. Our conclusions are based on >7,000 productivity measurements from 11 long-term experiments (mean length, ∼ 13 y) conducted at a single site with species from a single regional species pool, thus controlling for many potentially confounding factors. Our results suggest that the loss of biodiversity may have at least as great an impact on ecosystem functioning as other anthropogenic drivers of environmental change, and that use of diverse mixtures of species may be as effective in increasing productivity of some biomass crops as fertilization and may better provide ecosystem services.