Plant diversity and ecosystem productivity: Theoretical considerations

David Tilman, Clarence L. Lehman, Kendall T. Thomson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1048 Scopus citations


Ecosystem processes are thought to depend on both the number and identity of the species present in an ecosystem, but mathematical theory predicting this has been lacking. Here we present three simple models of interspecific competitive interactions in communities containing various numbers of randomly chosen species. All three models predict that, on average, productivity increases asymptotically with the original biodiversity of a community. The two models that address plant nutrient competition also predict that ecosystem nutrient retention increases with biodiversity and that the effects of biodiversity on productivity and nutrient retention increase with interspecific differences in resource requirements. All three models show that both species identity and biodiversity simultaneously influence ecosystem functioning, but their relative importance varies greatly among the models. This theory reinforces recent experimental results and shows that effects of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning are predicted by well-known ecological processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1857-1861
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 4 1997


  • biodiversity
  • nutrient use
  • resource competition
  • retention
  • soil fertility


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