Sustaining multiple ecosystem functions in grassland communities requires higher biodiversity

Erika S. Zavaleta, Jae R. Pasari, Kristin B. Hulvey, G. David Tilman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

291 Scopus citations


Society places value on the multiple functions of ecosystems from soil fertility to erosion control to wildlife-carrying capacity, and these functions are potentially threatened by ongoing biodiversity losses. Recent empirically based models using individual species' traits suggest that higher species richness is required to provide multiple ecosystem functions. However, no study to date has analyzed the observed functionality of communities of interacting species over multiple temporal scales to assess the relationship between biodiversity and multifunctionality. We use data from the longest-running biodiversity-functioning field experiment to date to test how species diversity affects the ability of grassland ecosystems to provide threshold levels of up to eight ecosystem functions simultaneously. Across years and every combination of ecosystem functions, minimum-required species richness consistently increases with the number of functions considered. Moreover, tradeoffs between functions and variability among years prevent any one community type from providing high levels of multiple functions, regardless of its diversity. Sustained multifunctionality, therefore, likely requires both higher species richness than single ecosystem functionality and a diversity of species assemblages across the landscape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1443-1446
Number of pages4
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 26 2010


  • Cedar Creek
  • Multifunctionality
  • Species richness
  • Tradeoffs


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