Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning

David Tilman, Forest Isbell, Jane M. Cowles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1253 Scopus citations


Species diversity is a major determinant of ecosystem productivity stability invasibility, and nutrient dynamics. Hundreds of studies spanning terrestrial, aquatic, and marine ecosystems show that high-diversity mixtures are approximately twice as productive as monocultures of the same species and that this difference increases through time. These impacts of higher diversity have multiple causes, including interspecific complementarity, greater use of limiting resources, decreased herbivory and disease, and nutrient-cycling feedbacks that increase nutrient stores and supply rates over the long term. These experimentally observed effects of diversity are consistent with predictions based on a variety of theories that share a common feature: All have trade-off-based mechanisms that allow long-term coexistence of many different competing species. Diversity loss has an effect as great as, or greater than, the effects of herbivory, fire, drought, nitrogen addition, elevated CO2, and other drivers of environmental change. The preservation, conservation, and restoration of biodiversity should be a high global priority.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)471-493
Number of pages23
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
StatePublished - Nov 23 2014

Bibliographical note

Times Cited: 0 Futuyma, DJ 0 978-0-8243-1445-3


  • biodiversity
  • coexistence
  • ecosystem functioning
  • invasibility complementarity
  • niche differentiation
  • productivity
  • stability


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