The Future of Complementarity: Disentangling Causes from Consequences

Kathryn E. Barry, Liesje Mommer, Jasper van Ruijven, Christian Wirth, Alexandra J. Wright, Yongfei Bai, John Connolly, Gerlinde B. De Deyn, Hans de Kroon, Forest Isbell, Alexandru Milcu, Christiane Roscher, Michael Scherer-Lorenzen, Bernhard Schmid, Alexandra Weigelt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

140 Scopus citations


Evidence suggests that biodiversity supports ecosystem functioning. Yet, the mechanisms driving this relationship remain unclear. Complementarity is one common explanation for these positive biodiversity–ecosystem functioning relationships. Yet, complementarity is often indirectly quantified as overperformance in mixture relative to monoculture (e.g., ‘complementarity effect’). This overperformance is then attributed to the intuitive idea of complementarity or, more specifically, to species resource partitioning. Locally, however, several unassociated causes may drive this overperformance. Here, we differentiate complementarity into three types of species differences that may cause enhanced ecosystem functioning in more diverse ecosystems: (i) resource partitioning, (ii) abiotic facilitation, and (iii) biotic feedbacks. We argue that disentangling these three causes is crucial for predicting the response of ecosystems to future biodiversity loss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-180
Number of pages14
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was catalyzed by a workshop funded by the German Research Foundation (Grant No.: FOR 1451 ) to L.M. and A.W. with support from the Jena Experiment. The authors are also grateful to three anonymous reviewers whose feedback greatly improved the quality of this manuscript and to EPIC Graphic Design for their help with developing the figures for this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd


  • Abiotic facilitation
  • Biodiversity
  • Biotic feedbacks
  • Complementarity
  • Complementarity effect
  • Ecosystem functioning
  • Plant-soil feedback
  • Resource partitioning
  • Resource tracers
  • Stress amelioration


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