No consistent effect of plant diversity on productivity

By: , and 



Hector et al. (1) reported on BIODEPTH, a major international experiment on the response of plant productivity to variation in the number of plant species. They found “an overall log-linear reduction of average aboveground biomass with loss of species,” leading to what the accompanying Perspective (2) described as “a rule of thumb—that each halving of diversity leads to a 10 to 20% reduction in productivity.” These conclusions, if true, imply that the continuing high rate of plant extinction threatens the future productivity of Earth's natural and managed ecosystems and could impair their ability to produce resources essential for human survival and to regulate the concentration of atmospheric CO2.

The three sites with proper experimental design (Portugal, Sweden, and Sheffield) all showed significant positive regressions of productivity across two or three doublings of species richness [Fig. 1; (12)]. This is the pattern expected from random selection from a set of objects with different properties (13–15), because the probability of including any specific member of the set—such as a plant species that grows rapidly or fixes nitrogen—increases with the number of objects selected. Such a pattern, found consistently in randomly assembled experimental plant communities but only rarely in natural plant communities (4, 5,13–15), has been identified as a statistical artifact of experimental design (5, 13, 14). Although one study (15) suggested that the pattern constitutes a natural mechanism by which diversity affects productivity, this requires the biologically unrealistic assumption that plant communities are randomly assembled with respect to productivity (5).

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title No consistent effect of plant diversity on productivity
Series title Science
DOI 10.1126/science.289.5483.1255a
Volume 289
Issue 5483
Year Published 2000
Language English
Publisher AAAS
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description 2 p.
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