Recent studies have shown that the loss of species from plant communities can reduce ecosystem functions such as productivity, soil health, and carbon storage. This reduced functioning can destabilize ecosystems in the long term, disrupting their ability to provide essential services to our planet. However, according to a new study led by the University of Zurich, assessing such processes is only possible if experiments can be conducted for a sufficient length of time.
The scientists investigated the stability of plant biomass production over two decades in one of the longest grassland biodiversity experiments in the world, the Jena Experiment in Germany. The analysis revealed that, after more than a decade, plant species in more diverse communities complemented each other in producing stable biomass.
By contrast, if plant diversity was low, community biomass varied more dramatically from year to year. Moreover, due to large fluctuations in species populations, species-rich communities had not yet stabilized during the first decade of the experiment.
“We now realize that the mechanisms by which diverse species communities maintain ecosystem functioning in the long term are continually developing even after two decades,” said study lead author Cameron Wagg, an expert in agroecology, biodiversity, and ecosystem functioning at the University of Zurich.
“These novel results fit with other recent findings of our research group, suggesting that over time evolutionary processes in diverse plant communities select the most ‘collaborative’ plant genotypes among the different species, thus increasing division of labor, community productivity and ecosystem stability,” added study senior author Bernhard Schmid, a biologist at the same university.
These findings suggest that, since ecosystem stability is crucial in the face of environmental perturbations, older and more diverse ecosystems should be valued and safeguarded in a rapidly changing world such as ours.
The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.
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