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Abstract

Biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning in a 15-year grassland experiment: patterns, mechanisms, and open questions.

Abstract

This paper reviews the results of 15-year research in the Jena Experiment in Germany, focusing on the effects of manipulating plant species richness and plant functional richness. With more than 85 000 measures taken from the plant diversity plots, the Jena Experiment allowed answering fundamental questions important for functional biodiversity research. First, the question was how general the effect of plant species richness is, regarding the many different processes that take place in an ecosystem. Approximately 45% of different types of ecosystem processes measured in the 'main experiment', where plant species richness ranged from 1 to 60 species, were significantly affected by plant species richness, providing strong support for the view that biodiversity is a significant driver of ecosystem functioning. In addition, the results from the Jena Experiment provide further evidence that diversity begets stability, for example stability against invasion of plant species. Second, the experiment explored whether individual plant species or individual plant functional groups, or biodiversity itself is more important for ecosystem functioning, in particular biomass production. Strong effects were recorded of individual species and plant functional groups on biomass production, yet these effects mostly occurred in addition to, but not instead of, effects of plant species richness. Third, the Jena Experiment assessed the effect of diversity on multitrophic interactions. The diversity of most organisms responded positively to increases in plant species richness, and the effect was stronger for above- than for belowground organisms, and stronger for herbivores than for carnivores or detritivores. In addition, the effect on organismic diversity was stronger than the effect on species abundances. Fourth, the Jena Experiment aimed to assess the effect of diversity on N, P and C cycling and the water balance of the plots, separating between element input into the ecosystem, element turnover, element stocks, and output from the ecosystem. While inputs were generally less affected by plant species richness, measures of element stocks, turnover and output were often positively affected by plant diversity, e.g., carbon storage strongly increased with increasing plant species richness. Variables of the N cycle responded less strongly to plant species richness than variables of the C cycle. Fifth, plant traits are often used to unravel mechanisms underlying the biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationship. In the Jena Experiment, most investigated plant traits, both above- and belowground, were plastic and trait expression depended on plant diversity in a complex way, suggesting limitation to using database traits for linking plant traits to particular functions. Sixth, plant diversity effects on ecosystem processes are often caused by plant diversity effects on species interactions. Analyses in the Jena Experiment including structural equation modelling suggest complex interactions that changed with diversity, e.g. soil carbon storage and greenhouse gas emission were affected by changes in the composition and activity of the belowground microbial community. Seventh, the Jena Experiment aimed to put the results into the context of agricultural practices in managed grasslands. The effect of increasing plant species richness from 1 to 16 species on plant biomass was as strong as the effect of a more intensive grassland management, using fertiliser and increasing mowing frequency. Potential bioenergy production from high-diversity plots was similar to that of conventionally used energy crops. These results suggest that diverse 'High Nature Value Grasslands' are multifunctional and can deliver a range of ecosystem services including production-related services. A final task was to assess the importance of potential artefacts in biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships, caused by the weeding of the plant community to maintain plant species composition. To summarize, the Jena Experiment has allowed for a comprehensive analysis of the functional role of biodiversity in an ecosystem.