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Biodiversity loss leads to consistent loss of functionality across different ecosystems

19 Dec 2017

It is increasingly recognized that loss of biodiversity compromises the ability of ecosystems to provide services which people depend on, such as biomass production, decomposition and nutrient cycling. In a rapidly changing world, understanding how loss of biodiversity affects these ecosystem services, or functions, has become increasingly necessary. Biodiversity loss affect ecosystem functions in different ways, and to find more general patterns, some ecologists try to predict the impact of biodiversity loss on multiple functions, or the multifunctionality, of an ecosystem, rather than looking at just one or a few functions.

In a study published today in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, ASE Professor David Wardle and postdoctoral researcher Dr. Nicolas Fanin show that reduced multifunctionality as a consequence of biodiversity loss becomes stronger when focus is on the full suite of functions of an ecosystem, rather than a subset of them. They also show that this response is consistent across a range of ecosystems with different properties. This means that the ‘multifunctionality’ of ecosystems, and thus the capacity of ecosystems to deliver multiple ecosystem goods and services, is consistently susceptible to biodiversity loss in all ecosystems, even when individual functions are not.

For this study, the researchers used a model study system consisting of 30 lake islands in the boreal forest of Sweden, where loss of plant diversity has been experimentally simulated since 1996. The findings from this model study system, that the functioning of all and not just some ecosystems are compromised by biodiversity loss, has important conservation implications. As such, it reveals that the functioning of all terrestrial ecosystems are probably severely compromised by biodiversity loss, especially when we focus on the full suite of functions performed by the ecosystem rather than a subset of them.

The research publication can be found here