The results of biodiversity-ecosystem functioning experiments are realistic

Jochum, Malte; Fischer, Markus; Isbell, Forest; Roscher, Christiane; van der Plas, Fons; Boch, Steffen; Boenisch, Gerhard; Buchmann, Nina; Catford, Jane A.; Cavender-Bares, Jeannine; Ebeling, Anne; Eisenhauer, Nico; Gleixner, Gerd; Hölzel, Norbert; Kattge, Jens; Klaus, Valentin H.; Kleinebecker, Till; Lange, Markus; Le Provost, Gaëtane; Meyer, Sebastian T.; ... (5 August 2019). The results of biodiversity-ecosystem functioning experiments are realistic (bioRxiv). Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory 10.1101/725812

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A large body of research shows that biodiversity loss can reduce ecosystem functioning, thus providing support for the conservation of biological diversity1–4. Much of the evidence for this relationship is drawn from biodiversity-ecosystem functioning experiments (hereafter: biodiversity experiments), in which biodiversity loss is simulated by randomly assembling communities of varying species diversity, and ecosystem functions are measured5–9. This random assembly has led some ecologists to question the relevance of biodiversity experiments to real-world ecosystems, where community assembly may often be non-random and influenced by external drivers, such as climate or land-use intensification10–18. Despite these repeated criticisms, there has been no comprehensive, quantitative assessment of how experimental and real-world plant communities really differ, and whether these differences invalidate the experimental results. Here, we compare data from two of the largest and longest-running grassland biodiversity experiments globally (Jena Experiment, Germany; BioDIV, USA) to related real-world grassland plant communities in terms of their taxonomic, functional, and phylogenetic diversity and functional-trait composition. We found that plant communities of biodiversity experiments have greater variance in these compositional features than their real-world counterparts, covering almost all of the variation of the real-world communities (82-96%) while also containing community types that are not currently observed in the real world. We then re-analysed a subset of experimental data that included only ecologically-realistic communities, i.e. those comparable to real-world communities. For ten out of twelve biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships, biodiversity effects did not differ significantly between the full dataset of biodiversity experiments and the ecologically-realistic subset of experimental communities. This demonstrates that the results of biodiversity experiments are largely insensitive to the inclusion/exclusion of unrealistic communities. By bridging the gap between experimental and real-world studies, these results demonstrate the validity of inferences from biodiversity experiments, a key step in translating their results into specific recommendations for real-world biodiversity management.

Item Type:

Working Paper


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Plant Ecology
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)

UniBE Contributor:

Jochum, Malte, Fischer, Markus, van der Plas, Alfons Leendert Derk, Boch, Steffen, Molina Venegas, Rafael, Penone, Caterina, Prati, Daniel, Rindisbacher, Abiel, Schäfer, Deborah, Manning, Peter


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)




Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory




Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

26 Aug 2019 16:50

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:30

Publisher DOI:





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