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Bioproductivity of communities in ecosystems

Based on our review of the scientific literature, we are certain of the following conclusions :

  • 1) Species’ functional characteristics strongly influence ecosystem properties. Functional characteristics operate in a variety of contexts, including effects of dominant species, keystone species, ecological engineers, and interactions among species (e.g., competition, facilitation, mutualism, disease, and predation). Relative abundance alone is not always a good predictor of the ecosystem-level importance of a species, as even relatively rare species (e.g., a keystone predator) can strongly influence pathways of energy and material flows.
  • 2) Alteration of biota in ecosystems via species invasions and extinctions caused by human activities has altered ecosystem goods and services in many well-documented cases. Many of these changes are difficult, expensive, or impossible to reverse or fix with technological solutions.
  • 3) The effects of species loss or changes in composition, and the mechanisms by which the effects manifest themselves, can differ among ecosystem properties, ecosystem types, and pathways of potential community change.
  • 4) Some ecosystem properties are initially insensitive to species loss because (a) ecosystems may have multiple species that carry out similar functional roles, (b) some species may contribute relatively little to ecosystem properties, or (c)properties may be primarily controlled by abiotic environmental conditions.
  • 5) More species are needed to insure a stable supply of ecosystem goods and services as spatial and temporal variability increases, which typically occurs as longer time periods and larger areas are considered.

We have high confidence in the following conclusions :

  • 1) Certain combinations of species are complementary in their patterns of resource use and can increase average rates of productivity and nutrient retention. At the same time, environmental conditions can influence the importance of complementarity in structuring communities. (...)
  • 2) Susceptibility to invasion by exotic species is strongly influenced by species composition and, under similar environmental conditions, generally decreases with increasing species richness. However, several other factors, (...) also strongly influence invasion success (...).
  • 3) Having a range of species that respond differently to different environmental perturbations can stabilize ecosystem process rates in response to disturbances and variation in abiotic conditions. Using practices that maintain a diversity of organisms of different functional effect and functional response types will help preserve a range of management options.

Uncertainties remain and further research is necessary in the following areas :

  • 1) Further resolution of the relationships among taxonomic diversity, functional diversity, and community structure is important for identifying mechanisms of biodiversity effects.
  • 2) Multiple trophic levels are common to ecosystems but have been understudied in biodiversity/ecosystem functioning research. The response of ecosystem properties to varying composition and diversity of consumer organisms is much more complex than responses seen in experiments that vary only the diversity of primary producers.
  • 3) Theoretical work on stability has outpaced experimental work, especially field research. We need long-term experiments to be able to assess temporal stability, as well as experimental perturbations to assess response to and recovery from a variety of disturbances. (...)
  • 4) Because biodiversity both responds to and influences ecosystem properties, understanding the feedbacks involved is necessary to integrate results from experimental communities with patterns seen at broader scales. (...)
  • 5) This paper focuses primarily on terrestrial systems, with some coverage of freshwater systems, because that is where most empirical and theoretical study has focused.

Despite some uncertainties about the mechanisms and circumstances under which diversity influences ecosystem properties, incorporating diversity effects into policy and management is essential, especially in making decisions involving large temporal and spatial scales. Sacrificing those aspects of ecosystems that are difficult or impossible to reconstruct, such as diversity, simply because we are not yet certain about the extent and mechanisms by which they affect ecosystem properties, will restrict future management options even further. It is incumbent upon ecologists to communicate this need, and the values that can derive from such a perspective, to those charged with economic and policy decision-making.

Publié ou mis à jour le 14 juin 2012