Deficits of biodiversity and productivity linger a century after agricultural abandonment

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At the global scale, human activities are threatening the extinction of many species. It remains debated, however, whether there has been corresponding loss of biodiversity at the smaller spatial scales at which species loss often erodes ecosystem functioning, stability and services. Here we consider changes in local biodiversity and productivity over 37 years in 21 grasslands and savannahs with known agricultural land-use histories. We show that, during the century following agricultural abandonment, local plant diversity recovers only incompletely and plant productivity does not significantly recover. By 91 years after agricultural abandonment, despite many local species gains, formerly ploughed fields still had only three quarters of the plant diversity and half of the plant productivity observed in a nearby remnant ecosystem that has never been ploughed. The large and growing extent of recovering ecosystems provides an unprecedented opportunity to reverse the impacts of habitat loss. Active restoration efforts are needed to enable and accelerate recovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1533-1538
Number of pages6
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank T. Mielke, K. Worm and the many undergraduate student interns for assistance with field work. We acknowledge funding support from the US National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) programme (DEB-1831944), the LTER Network Communications Office (DEB-1545288) and an NSF CAREER award (DEB-1845334).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.


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