Shifting grassland plant community structure drives positive interactive effects of warming and diversity on aboveground net primary productivity

Jane M. Cowles, Peter D. Wragg, Alexandra J. Wright, Jennifer S. Powers, David Tilman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Ecosystems worldwide are increasingly impacted by multiple drivers of environmental change, including climate warming and loss of biodiversity. We show, using a long-term factorial experiment, that plant diversity loss alters the effects of warming on productivity. Aboveground primary productivity was increased by both high plant diversity and warming, and, in concert, warming (≈1.5 °C average above and belowground warming over the growing season) and diversity caused a greater than additive increase in aboveground productivity. The aboveground warming effects increased over time, particularly at higher levels of diversity, perhaps because of warming-induced increases in legume and C4 bunch grass abundances, and facilitative feedbacks of these species on productivity. Moreover, higher plant diversity was associated with the amelioration of warming-induced environmental conditions. This led to cooler temperatures, decreased vapor pressure deficit, and increased surface soil moisture in higher diversity communities. Root biomass (0-30 cm) was likewise consistently greater at higher plant diversity and was greater with warming in monocultures and at intermediate diversity, but at high diversity warming had no detectable effect. This may be because warming increased the abundance of legumes, which have lower root : shoot ratios than the other types of plants. In addition, legumes increase soil nitrogen (N) supply, which could make N less limiting to other species and potentially decrease their investment in roots. The negative warming × diversity interaction on root mass led to an overall negative interactive effect of these two global change factors on the sum of above and belowground biomass, and thus likely on total plant carbon stores. In total, plant diversity increased the effect of warming on aboveground net productivity and moderated the effect on root mass. These divergent effects suggest that warming and changes in plant diversity are likely to have both interactive and divergent impacts on various aspects of ecosystem functioning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)741-749
Number of pages9
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Biodiversity
  • Biodiversity-ecosystem functioning
  • Global change
  • Grassland ecology
  • Plant communities
  • Primary productivity
  • Warming


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