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The most unique feature of Earth is the existence of life, and the most extraordinary feature of life is its diversity. Approximately 9 million types of plants, animals, protists and fungi inhabit the Earth. So, too, do 7 billion people. Two decades ago, at the first Earth Summit, the vast majority of the world's nations declared that human actions were dismantling the Earth's ecosystems, eliminating genes, species and biological traits at an alarming rate. This observation led to the question of how such loss of biological diversity will alter the functioning of ecosystems and their ability to provide society with the goods and services needed to prosper.
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REVIEW doi:10.1038/nature11148
Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity
Bradley J. Cardinale
1
, J. Emmett Duffy
2
, Andrew Gonzalez
3
, David U. Hooper
4
, Charles Perrings
5
, Patrick Venail
1
, Anita Narwani
1
,
Georgina M. Mace
6
, David Tilman
7
, David A. Wardle
8
, Ann P. Kinzig
5
, Gretchen C. Daily
9
, Michel Loreau
10
, James B. Grace
11
,
Anne Larigauderie
12
, Diane S. Srivastava
13
& Shahid Naeem
14
The most unique feature of Earth is the existence of life, and the most extraordinary feature of life is its diversity.
Approximately 9 million types of plants, animals, protists and fungi inhabit the Earth. So, too, do 7 billion people.
Two decades ago, at the first Earth Summit, the vast majority of the world’s nations declared that human actions
were dismantling the Earth’s ecosystems, eliminating genes, species and biological traits at an alarming rate. This
observation led to the question of how such loss of biological diversity will alter the functioning of ecosystems and
their ability to provide society with the goods and services needed to prosper.
In the past 20 years remarkable progress has been made towards
understanding how the loss of biodiversity affects the functioning
of ecosystems and thus affects society. Soon after the 1992 Earth
Summit in Rio de Janeiro, interest in understanding how biodiversity
loss might affect the dynamics and functioning of ecosystems, and the
supply of goods and services, grew dramatically. Major international
research initiatives formed; hundreds of experiments were performed
in ecosystems all over the globe; new ecological theories were developed
and tested against experimental results.
Here we review two decades of research that has examined how
biodiversity loss influences ecosystem functions, and the impacts that
this can have on the goods and services ecosystems provide (Box 1). We
begin with a brief historical introduction. We then summarize the major
results from research that has provided increasingly rigorous answers to
the question of how and why the Earth’s biological diversity influences
the functioning of ecosystems. After this, we consider the closely related
issue of how biodiversity provides specific ecosystem services of value to
humanity. We close by considering how the next generation of bio-
diversity science can reduce our uncertainties and better serve policy
and management initiatives.
A brief history
During the 1980s, concern about the rate at which species were being
lost from ecosystems led to research showing that organisms can influ-
ence the physical formation of habitats (ecosystem engineering
1
), fluxes
of elements in biogeochemical cycles (for example, ecological stoichi-
ometry
2
), and the productivity of ecosystems (for example, via trophic
cascades and keystone species
3
). Such research suggested that loss of
certain life forms could substantially alter the structure and functioning
of whole ecosystems.
By the 1990s, several international initiatives were focused on the
more specific question of how the diversity of life forms impacts upon
ecosystems. The Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment
(SCOPE) produced an influential book reviewing the state of knowledge
on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (BEF)
4
. The United Nations
Environment Program commissioned the Global Biodiversity
Assessment to evaluate the state of knowledge on biodiversity, including
its role in ecosystem and landscape processes
5
. Building on early studies
of the effects of biodiversity on ecosystem processes, DIVERSITAS, the
international programme dedicated to biodiversity science, produced a
global research agenda
6
.
By the mid-1990s, BEF studies had manipulated the species richness of
plants in laboratory and field experiments and suggested that ecosystem
functions, like biomass production and nutrient cycling, respond
strongly to changes in biological diversity
7–10
. Interpretation of these
studies was initially controversial, and by the late 1990s BEF researchers
were involved in a debate over the validity of experimental designs, the
mechanisms responsible for diversity effects, and the relevance of
results to non-experimental systems
11
. This controversy helped to create
a decade of research that, by 2009, generated several hundred papers report-
ing results of .600 experiments that manipulated more than 500 types of
organisms in freshwater, marine and terrestrial ecosystems
11,12
.
As the field of BEF developed, a related body of research began to form
an agenda for biodiversity and ecosystem services (BES) research built on
the idea that ecosystems provide essential benefits to humanity
13,14
.
Although BES did not evolve separately from BEF, it took a distinctly
different direction. The main focus of BES was on large-scale patterns
across landscapes more relevant to economic or cultural evaluation. For
many BES applications, biodiversity was considered an ecosystem service
in-and-of itself
15
. When biodiversity was viewed as an underlying factor
driving ecosystem services, the term was often used loosely to mean the
presence/absence of entire habitats or groups of organisms (for example,
impact of mangrove forests on flood protection, or of all native pollina-
tors on pollination).
The 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
16
appraised, for the first
time, the condition and trends in the world’s ecosystems and the services
they provide, and highlighted two distinct foci of BEF and BES research.
Research on BEF had developed a large body of experiments and
mathematical theory describing how genetic, species and functional
diversity of organisms control basic ecological processes (functions) in
ecosystems (Box 1). Studies on BES were, in contrast, mostly correlative,
conducted at the landscape scale and often focused on how major
habitat modifications influenced ‘provisioning’ and ‘regulating’ services
of ecosystems.
1
School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.
2
Virginia Institute of Marine Science, The College of William and Mary, Gloucester Point, Virginia
23062, USA.
3
McGill University, Department of Biology, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1B1, Canada.
4
Western Washington University, Department of Biology, Bellingham, Washington 98225, USA.
5
School of Life
Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85287, USA.
6
Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park SL5 7PY, UK.
7
Department of Ecology, Evolution & Behavior,
University of Minnesota, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA.
8
Department of Forest Ecology and Management, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, S- 901 83 Umea
˚, Sweden.
9
Department of Biology
and Woods Institute, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA.
10
Station d’Ecologie Expe
´rimentale, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 09200 Moulis, France.
11
US Geological Survey,
National Wetlands Research Center, Lafayette, Louisiana 70506, USA.
12
Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, 57, Rue Cuvier, CP 41 75231, Paris Cedex 05, France.
13
Department of Zoology, University of
British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada.
14
Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, USA.
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The 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit is an opportune time
to review what has been learned from both fields, and to continue their
synthesis towards a data-driven consensus. In the sections that follow,
we summarize how biological variation per se acts as an independent
variable to affect the functions and services of ecosystems.
20 years of research on BEF
In addition to the proliferation of experiments (.600 since 1990)
12
, BEF
research has developed a substantial body of mathematical theory
17–19
,
and expanded its scope to include global patterns in natural eco-
systems
20–22
. More than half of all work has been published since the
last consensus paper in 2005 (ref. 23), and since that time, several
milestones have been crossed: the field has coalesced around a series
of key findings and themes that have been fostered by the publication of
13 quantitative data syntheses
12,24–35
; many of the early scientific debates
have subsided as data have amassed to resolve key controversies; a new
consensus is emerging concerning the field’s unanswered questions and
how to address them. These milestones provide a unique opportunity to
re-evaluate earlier conclusions and to identify emerging trends.
Six consensus statements
We conclude that the balance of evidence that has accrued over the last
two decades justifies the following statements about how biodiversity
loss has an impact on the functioning of ecosystems.
Consensus statement one
There is now unequivocal evidence that biodiversity loss reduces the
efficiency by which ecological communities capture biologically essen-
tial resources, produce biomass, decompose and recycle biologically
essential nutrients.
Meta-analyses published since 2005 have shown that, as a general rule,
reductions in the number of genes,species and functional groupsof organ-
isms reduce the efficiency by which whole communities capture biologic-
ally essential resources (nutrients, water, light, prey), and convert those
resources into biomass
12,24–28,30–35
(Fig. 1). Recent meta-analyses further
suggest that plant litter diversity enhances decomposition and recycling of
elements after organisms die
12
, although the effects tend to be weaker than
for other processes. Biodiversity effects seem to be remarkably consistent
across different groups of organisms, among trophic levels and across the
various ecosystems that have been studied
12,24,25,31
. This consistency indi-
cates that there are general underlying principles that dictate how the
organization of communities influences the functioning of ecosystems.
There are exceptions to this statement for some ecosystems and pro-
cesses
12,32,36
, and these offer opportunities to explore the boundaries that
constrain biodiversity effects.
Consensus statement two
There is mounting evidence that biodiversity increases the stability of
ecosystem functions through time.
Numerous forms of ‘stability’ have been described, and there is no
theoretical reason to believe that biodiversity should enhance all forms
of stability
37
. But theory and data both support greater temporal stability
of a community property like total biomass at higher levels of diversity.
Five syntheses have summarized how diversity has an impact on
variation of ecosystem functions through time
38–42
, and these have
BOX 1
The scope of our review
In this Review we ask how biodiversity per se—that is, the variety of
genes, species, or functional traits in an ecosystem—has an impact on
the functioning of that ecosystem and, in turn, the services that the
ecosystem provides to humanity (yellow arrows, Box 1 Fig. 1 below).
This encompasses questions such as can a forest store more carbon if
it has a greater variety of tree species? Can a stream clean up more
pollution if it has a greater variety of microbial genotypes? Can natural
enemies better control agricultural pests if they are composed of a
variety of predators, parasites and pathogens?
Biodiversity is the variety of life, including variation among genes,
species and functional traits. It is often measured as: richness is a
measure of the number of unique life forms; evenness is a measure of
the equitability among life forms; and heterogeneity is the dissimilarity
among life forms.
Ecosystem functions are ecological pr ocesses that control the fluxes
of energy, nutrients and organic matter through an environment.
Examples include: primary production, which is the process by which
plants use sunlight to convert inorganic matter into new biological
tissue; nutrient cycling, which is the process by which biologically
essential nutrients are captured, released and then recaptured; and
decomposition, which is the process by which organic waste, such as
dead plants and animals, is broken down and recycled.
Ecosystem services are the suite of benefits that ecosystems
provide to humanity. Here we focus on two types of ecosystem
services—provisioning and regulating. Provisioning services involve
the production of renewable resources (for example, food, wood, fresh
water). Regulating services are those that lessen environmental
change (for example, climate regulation, pest/disease control).
Images from NASA and Shutterstock.com; used with permission.
Ecosystem
functions
Biodiversity
Global
change
Ecosystem
services
Ecosystem
function
(resource capture,
biomass production,
decomposition, nutrient
recycling)
Biological diversity
(variation in genes, species,
functional traits)
Expand our focus
Improve predictions
Link functions to services
Figure 1
|
The form of a typical diversity–function relationship. This
conceptual diagram summarizes what we know about the shape of the
biodiversity–ecosystem functioning (BEF) relationship based on summaries of
several hundred experiments
12,24–35
. The red line shows the average change
across all combinations of genes, species, or traits. The grey polygon represents
the 95% confidence interval, whereas red dots give maximum and minimum
values of the most or least productive species grown alone in monoculture (see
main text aboutuncertainties associated with the upperbound). To improve our
predictions of how diversity loss influences thegoods and services ofecosystems,
we must now take this experimental relationship and (1) link the ecosystem
functionsmeasured in experiments to the provisioning andregulating servicesof
ecosystems; (2) expand the focus of research to better mimic realistic extinction
scenarios and trophic structures of natural ecosystems; and (3) develop
mathematical models that can scale experimental results to whole landscapes.
Images from D.T., N. Martinez and Shutterstock.com; used with permission.
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shown that total resource capture and biomass production are generally
more stable in more diverse communities. The mechanisms by which
diversity confers stability include over-yielding, statistical averaging and
compensatory dynamics. Over-yielding enhances stability when mean
biomass production increases with diversity more rapidly than its
standard deviation. Statistical averaging occurs when random variation
in the population abundances of different species reduces the variability
of aggregate ecosystem variables
43
. Compensatory dynamics are driven
by competitive interactions and/or differential responses to environ-
mental fluctuations among different life forms, both of which lead to
asynchrony in their environmental responses
18,44
. We have yet to quantify
the relative importance of these mechanisms and the conditions under
which they operate.
Consensus statement three
The impact of biodiversity on any single ecosystem process is nonlinear
and saturating, such that change accelerates as biodiversityloss increases.
The form of BEF relationships in most experimental studies indicates
that initiallosses of biodiversityin diverse ecosystems have relatively small
impacts on ecosystem functions, but increasing losses lead to accelerating
rates of change
12,25,31
(Fig. 1). We do not yet have quantitative estimates of
the level of biodiversity at which change in ecosystem functions become
significant for different processes or ecosystems,and this is an activearea
of research
12,31
. Although our statement is an empirical generality, some
researchers question whether saturating curves are an artefact of overly
simplified experiments
45
. Saturation could be imposed by the spatial
homogeneity, short timescales, or limited species pools of experiments
that minimize opportunities for expression of niche differences. In
support of this hypothesis, select case studies suggest that as experiments
run longer, saturating curves become more monotonically increasing
46
.
In addition, biodiversity–ecosystem function relationships in natural
ecosystems sometimes differ from saturating curves
22
, and future
research needs to assess when and why these differences occur.
Consensus statement four
Diverse communities are more productive because they contain key
species that have a large influence on productivity, and differences in
functional traits among organisms increase total resource capture.
Much of the historical controversy in BEF research involved the extent to
which diversity effects are driven by single, highly productive species versus
some form of ‘complementarity’ among species
47,48
. Research and syntheses
over the past 10 years have made it clear that both the identity and the
diversity of organisms jointly control the functioning of ecosystems.
Quantification of the variance explained by species identity versus diversity
in .200 experiments found that, on average across many ecosystems, each
contributes roughly 50% to the net biodiversity effect
12
. Complementarity
may represent niche partitioning or positive species interactions
48
,butthe
extent to which these mechanisms broadly contribute to ecosystem func-
tioning has yet to be confirmed
12,49
.
Consensus statement five
Loss of diversity across trophic levels has the potential to influence
ecosystem functions even more strongly than diversity loss within
trophic levels.
Much work has shown that food web interactions are key mediators of
ecosystem functioning, and that loss of higher consumers can cascade
through a food web to influence plant biomass
50,51
. Loss of one or a few
top predator species can reduce plant biomass by at least as much
52
as
does the transformation of a diverse plant assemblage into a species
monoculture
12
. Loss of consumers can also alter vegetation structure,
fire frequency, and even disease epidemics in a range of ecosystems
51
.
Consensus statement six
Functional traits of organisms have large impacts on the magnitude of
ecosystem functions, which give rise to a wide range of plausible impacts
of extinction on ecosystem function.
The extent to which ecological functions change after extinction
depends greatly on which biological traits are extirpated
23,53
.Depending
on the traits lost, scenarios of change vary from large reductions in eco-
logical processes (for example, if the surviving life form is highly unpro-
ductive) to the opposite where the efficiency, productivity and stability of
an ecosystem increase. To illustrate this latter possibility, a summary of
BEF experiments showed that 65% of 1,019 experimental plots containing
plant polycultures produced less biomass than that achieved by their most
productive species grown alone
27
. This result has been questioned on
statistical grounds
54
, and because the short duration of experiments
may limit the opportunity for diverse polycultures to out-perform pro-
ductive species
27
. Even so, the key point is that although diversity clearly
has an impact on ecosystem functions when averaged across all genes,
species and traits, considerable variation surrounds this mean effect,
stemming from differences in the identity of the organisms and their
functional traits (Fig. 1). To predict accurately the consequences of any
particular scenario of extinction, we must know which life forms have
greatest extinction risk, and how the traits of those organisms influence
function
55
. Quantifying functional trait diversity and linking this to both
extinction risk and ecosystem processes is a rapidly expanding area of
research
53,55
.
Four emerging trends
In addition to the consensus statements above, data published in the past
few years have revealed four emerging trends that are changing the way
we view the functional consequences of biodiversity loss.
Emerging trend one
The impacts of diversity loss on ecological processes might be sufficiently
large to rival the impacts of many other global drivers of environmental
change.
Although biodiversityhas a significant impact on most ecosystem func-
tions, there have been questions about whether these effects are large
enough to rank among the major drivers of global change. One recent
study
56
compared 11 long-term experiments performed at one research
site, and another
57
used a suite of meta-analyses from published data to
show that the impacts of species loss on primary productivity are of
comparable magnitude to the impacts of drought, ultraviolet radiation,
climate warming, ozone, acidification, elevated CO
2
, herbivory, fire and
certain forms of nutrient pollution. Because the BEF relationship is non-
linear (see above), the exact ranking of diversity relative to other drivers
will depend on the magnitudeof biodiversity loss,as well as magnitudes of
other environmental changes. Nevertheless, these two studies indicate
that diversity loss may have as quantitatively significant an impact on
ecosystemfunctions as other global change stressors (for example, climate
change) that have already received substantial policy attention
58
.
Emerging trend two
Diversity effects grow stronger with time, and may increase at larger
spatial scales.
Diversity effects in small-scale, short-term experiments may under-
estimate the impacts of diversity loss on the functioning of more natural
ecosystems
45
. At larger spatial scales and with greater temporal fluctua-
tions, more environmental heterogeneity may increase opportunities for
species to exploit more niches. Consistent with this argument, a growing
body of research now shows that the net effects of biodiversity on eco-
system functions grow stronger as experiments run longer
27,46,59
. Limited
data also support the notion that diversity effects grow stronger at larger
spatial scales
12,60,61
and with greater resource heterogeneity
62–64
. Thus,
BEF research so far may have underestimated the minimum levels of
biodiversity required for ecosystem processes.
Emerging trend three
Maintaining multiple ecosystem processes at multiple places and times
requires higher levels of biodiversity than does a single process at a single
place and time.
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Most BEF research has focused on one diversity–function relation-
ship at a time. An emerging body of work suggests that the number of
species needed to sustain any single process is lower than the number of
species needed to sustain multiple processes simultaneously
21,65–67
.
Moreover, organisms that control ecological processes at any single
location, or in any particular year, often differ from those that control
processes in other locations or years
67
. As such, more biodiversity is
required to maintain the ‘multi-functionality’ of ecosystems at multiple
places and times.
Emerging trend four
The ecological consequences of biodiversity loss can be predicted from
evolutionary history.
BEF research has been dominated by studies that have used species
richness as their primary measure of biodiversity. But species represent
‘packages’ for all the genetic and trait variation that influences the effi-
ciency and metabolism of an organism, and these differences are shaped
by patterns of common ancestry
68
. Recent meta-analyses suggest that
phylogenetic distances among species (that is, a measure of genetic
divergence) may explain more variation in biomass production than
taxonomic diversity
34,35
. This suggests that evolutionary processes that
generate trait variation among organisms are, in part, responsible for the
ecosystem consequences of biodiversity loss.
20 years of research on BES
Over the past 20 years, researchers have developed a rigorous under-
standing of the services that natural and modified ecosystems provide to
society
16
. We have learned that (1) optimizing ecosystems for certain
provisioning services, especially food, fibre and biofuel production, has
greatly simplified their structure, composition and functioning across
scales; (2) simplification has enhanced certain provisioning services, but
reduced others, particularly regulating services; and (3) simplification
has led to major losses of biodiversity
16
. However, critical questions
remain about whether biodiversity loss per se is the cause of impaired
ecosystem services in simplified landscapes.
The BES field has resulted in fewer syntheses than has the BEF field, in
part because many services cannot be measured directly or manipulated
experimentally. We have, therefore, summarized the balance of evidence
with our own literature review (Box 2). We began by collating lists of
ecosystem services that have been used in recent summaries
15,24,33 ,69
.We
did not include cultural services in our review, which would describe
people’s non-consumptiveuses of biodiversity such as recreation, tourism,
education, science and cultural identity. Whether people are motivated
by an interest in particular species (for example, totemic or charismatic
megafauna) or particular landscapes (for example, wilderness areas or
national parks), their demand for cultural services implies a demand for
the biodiversity and ecosystem functions required to support the species
or communities of interest. Even so, cultural services have rarely been
investigated with respect to diversity per se. Here we focused our efforts
on the provisioning and regulating services of ecosystems (Box 1), as
these are the services that biodiversity studies have most often measured,
and that are most frequently related to ecosystem functions.
We began our review by identifying data syntheses that have used
either ‘vote-counting’ (in which the authors tallied the number of studies
showing positive, negative, or nonsignificant relationships) or formal
statistical meta-analyses (in which authors analysed previously pub-
lished data to measure standardized correlation coefficients, regression
slopes or effect sizes) to quantify relationships between biodiversity and
each ecosystem service. Forany service for which a data synthesis was not
found, we performed our own summary of peer-reviewed articles using
search terms in Supplementary Table 1. Papers were sorted by relevance
to maximize the match to search terms, after which, we reviewed the top
100 papers for each ecosystem service (leadingto a review of .1,700 titles
and abstracts). For papers with data, we categorized the diversity–service
relationship as positive, negative, or nonsignificant according to the
authors’ own statistical tests.
Detailedresults of our data synthesis are summarized in Supplementary
Table 2, and the most salient points are given in Table 1. We believe the
following statements are supported by this peer-reviewed literature.
Balance of evidence
Statement one
There is now sufficient evidence that biodiversity per se either directly
influences (experimental evidence) or is strongly correlated with (obser-
vational evidence) certain provisioning and regulating services.
The green arrows in Table 1 show the ecosystem services for which
there is sufficient evidence to conclude that biodiversity has an impact
on the service as predicted. For provisioning services, data show that
(1) intraspecific genetic diversity increases the yield of commercial crops;
(2) tree species diversity enhances production of wood in plantations;
(3) plant species diversity in grasslands enhances the production of
fodder; and (4) increasing diversity of fish is associated with greater
stability of fisheries yields. For regulating processes and services,
(1) increasing plant biodiversity increases resistance to invasion by exotic
plants; (2) plant pathogens, such as fungal and viral infections, are less
prevalent in more diverse plant communities; (3) plant species diversity
increases aboveground carbon sequestration through enhanced biomass
production (but see statement 2 concerning long-term carbon storage);
and (4) nutrient mineralization and soil organic matter increase with
plant richness.
Most of these services are ones that can be directly linked to the
ecosystem functions measured in BEF experiments. For example,
experiments that test the effects of plant species richness on above-
ground biomass production are also those that provide direct evidence
for effects of diversity on aboveground carbon sequestration and on
fodder production. For services less tightly linked to ecosystem func-
tions (for example, services associated with specific populations rather
than ecosystem-level properties), we often lack rigorous verification of
the diversity–service relationship.
Statement two
For many of the ecosystem services reviewed, the evidence for effects of
biodiversity is mixed, and the contribution of biodiversity per se to the
service is less well defined.
The yellow arrows in Table 1 show ecosystem services for which the
available evidence has revealed mixed effects of biodiversity on the
service. For example, in one data synthesis, 39% of experiments in crop
production systems reported that plant species diversity led to greater
yield of the desired crop species, whereas 61% reported reduced yield
70
.
Impacts of biodiversity on long-term carbon storage were similarly
mixed, where carbon storage refers to carbon stocks that remained in
the system (in plants or soils) for $10 years. Comparably few studies
have examined storage rather than sequestration. Evidence on the effect
of plant diversity on pest abundance is also mixed, with four available
data syntheses showing different results. Evidence for an effect of animal
diversity on the prevalence of animal disease is mixed, despite recent
claims that biodiversity generally suppresses disease
71
. Important
opportunities exist for new research to assess the factors that control
variation in the response of these services to changes in biodiversity.
Statement three
For many services, there are insufficient data to evaluate the relationship
between biodiversity and the service.
There were three ecosystem services for which we found no data,
about one-third had less than five published relationships, and half
had fewer than ten (see Supplementary Table 2, white cells). This
included some noteworthy examples, such as the effect of fish diversity
on fisheries yield (as opposed to stability), and the effect of biodiversity
on flood regulation. Surprisingly, each of these services has been cited in
the literature as being a direct product of biodiversity
16,26
. Some of this
discrepancy may be attributable to different uses of the term biodiversity
(Box 1). For example, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment reported
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that biodiversity enhances flood protection
16
, but examples were based
on destruction of entire ecosystems (forests, mangroves, or wetlands)
leading to increased flood risk. We did not consider complete habitat
conversion in our analyses (see Box 2 for examples).
In addition, claims about biodiversity based on ancillary evidence are
not reflected in our analyses. For example, we found little direct evidence
that genetic diversity enhances the temporal stability of crop yield (as
opposed to total yield); yet, most farmers and crop breeders recognize
that genetic diversity provides the raw material for selection of desirable
traits, and can facilitate rotations that minimize crop damage caused by
pests, disease and the vagaries of weather
72
. Although in some instances
the ancillary evidence provides rather convincing evidence for a role of
biodiversity in providing the ecosystem service, other cases are less
convincing. This emphasizes the need for stronger and more explicit
evidence to back up claims for biodiversity effects on ecosystem services.
Statement four
For a small number of ecosystem services, current evidence for the
impact of biodiversity runs counter to expectations.
The red arrows in Table 1 illustratecases where the balance of evidence
currently runs counter to claims about how biodiversity should affect the
ecosystem service. For example,it has been argued that biodiversity could
enhance the purity of water by removing nutrient and other chemical
pollutants, or by reducing theloads of harmful pests (for example, faecal
coliform bacteria, fungal pathogens)
16
. There are examples where genetic
or species diversity of algae enhances removal of nutrient pollutants from
fresh water
12
, or where diversity of filter-feeding organisms reduces
waterborne pathogens
73
. However, there are even more examples that
show no relationship between biodiversity and water quality.
Finally, there are instances where increased biodiversity may be dele-
terious. For example, although diverse assemblages of natural enemies
(predators, parasitoids and pathogens) are frequently more effective in
reducing the density of herbivorous pests
74
, diverse natural enemy com-
munities sometimes inhibit biocontrol
75
, often because enemies attack
each other through intra-guild predation
76
. Another example relates to
human health, where more diverse pathogen populations are likely to
create higher risks of infectious disease, and strains of bacteria and
viruses that evolve drug resistance pose health and economic burdens
to people
77
. Such examples caution against making sweeping statements
that biodiversity always brings benefits to society.
Outlook and directions
If we are to manage and mitigate for the consequences of diversity loss
effectively, we need to build on the foundations laid down by BEF and
BES research to expand its realism, relevance and predictive ability. At
the same time, we need feedback from policy and management arenas to
forge new avenues of research that will make the science even more
useful. Here we consider how the next generation of biodiversity science
can reduce our uncertainties and better serve policy and management
initiatives for the global environment.
Integrating BEF and BES research
The fields of BEF and BES have close intellectual ties, but important
distinctions are evident. We see at least two avenues that could facilitate
better integration. First, an important frontier involves detailing the
mechanistic links between ecosystem functions and services (Box 1).
The BEF field has routinely measured functions without extending those
to known services, whereas the BES field has routinely described services
without understanding their underlying ecological functions. A chal-
lenge to linking these two perspectives is that services are often regulated
by multiple functions, which do not necessarily respond to changes in
biodiversity in the same way. For example, if we want to know how
biodiversity influences the ability of ecosystems to remove CO
2
from
the atmosphere and store carbon over long time frames, then we need to
consider the net influence of biodiversity on photosynthesis (exchange of
CO
2
for O
2
), carbon sequestration (accumulation of carbon in live plant
BOX 2
Linking biodiversity to ecosystem
services
We reviewed .1,700 papers to summarize the balance of evidence
linking biodiversity to the goods and services provided by ecosystems.
We collated lists of provisioning and regulating services that have been
the focus of recent summaries (Supplementary Table 1), and then
searched the ISI Web of Knowledge to identify any previously
published data syntheses that have summarized known relationships
between biodiversity and each ecosystem service. When a data
synthesis was not found, we completed our own summary of peer-
reviewed articles and categorized the diversity–service relationship as
positive, negative, or nonsignificant according to the authors’ own
statistical tests. Articles had to meet the following four criteria for
inclusion.
Criterion 1: the study had to test explicitly for a relationship between
biodiversity (defined in Box 1) and the focal ecosystem service using
experimental (diversity manipulated) or observational (diversity not
manipulated) data.
Criterion 2: the study had to quantify biodiversity and the focal
service directly (that is, studies using proxies were excluded).
Criterion 3: if authors of the original study identified confounding
variables, data were included only if the effects of those confounding
variables were statistically controlled for before quantifying the
diversity–service relationship.
Criterion 4: the study had to compare a more diverse to less diverse
ecosystem containing at least one service providing unit. Any
comparison to ecosystems with no service providing unit was
excluded (see Box 2 Fig. 1 and Box 2 Fig. 2 for two examples).
Yes No
Box 2 Figure 1
|
Pollination is an ecosystem service provided by a wide
variety of organisms, and is essential to the production of many of the
world’s food crops. We considered studies that compare services like
pollination success (for example, fruit set) in a diverse system to a less
diversesystem (bottom left).But we excluded studies comparing services of
a diversesystem to one with no serviceproviding organisms (bottomright).
Although the latter can quantify the value of service providing organisms
(for example, pollinators), it says nothing about the role of biodiversity.
Yes No
Habitat
Box 2 Figure 2
|
Forests provide a wide array of ecosystem services such
as carbon sequestration, wood production and water purification. We
considered studies that compare diverse to less diverse habitats (bottom
left). However, we did not consider studies that compare services in
diverse habitats to those where the habitat was destroyed (for example,
clear cut). Although the latter may show the value of the habitat for
ecosystem services, it cannot tell us the role of biodiversity.
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tissue), herbivory (plant carbon eaten by animals), and decomposition
(carbon returned to atmosphere as plants die and decompose).
Researchers in the BEF and BES fields will need to work more closely
to quantify the networks of mechanistic links between ecosystem func-
tions and services.
Second, the fields of BEF and BES could better exploit their comple-
mentary approaches to research. Research on BEF has focused mostly on
smaller spatial scales conducive to controlled experiments, which has
made it difficult to scale results to real ecosystems at larger scales where
services are delivered. Studies on BES have relied heavily on obser-
vational data, and often failed to separate general biotic effects on eco-
system services (for example, biomass, habitats or entire groups of
organisms) from effects of biodiversity per se (that is, variation in life
forms). To better merge these two programmes, BEF and BES will need
to expand their scopes of research and develop theoretical approaches
that can link the small-scale, mechanistic focus of BEF research to large-
scale patterns that are the focus of BES. We discuss each of these in turn.
Expanding our scope
The need to exploremore realistic scenarios of diversitychange that reflect
how human activities are altering biodiversity is now urgent. Organisms
are not lost from ecosystems at random, and traits that predispose species
to extinction are often those that drive ecosystem processes
55,78
.Sofarthis
issue has mostly been explored through simulations
79,80
, but food web
theory
81
based on using environmental stressors to cause nonrandom
extinctions may provide a basis for a new generation of BEF experiments.
Furthermore, invasions and range expansions driven by anthropogenic
change are homogenizing Earth’s biota and, in several cases, increasing
local taxonomic diversity
82
. Predicting the ecosystem consequences of
simultaneous gains (invasion) and losses (extinction) requires that we first
understand which biological traits predispose life forms to higher
probabilities of extirpation or establishment (response traits), and detail
how response traits covary with traits that drive ecosystem functioning
(effect traits)
55
. For example, at local scales invasive plants often have
functional traits that are associated with more rapid resource acquisition
and growth than those of coexisting native species
83
, although global
meta-analyses suggest only modest differences between native and intro-
duced plants in their effects on ecosystem processes
84
.Statisticalmodels
85
have been developed that allow integration of invasion and extinction into
a trait framework, and these models should now be extended to predict
changes in ecosystem services.
Another challenge is to incorporate better the real complexity of food
webs into BEF and BES research
30,52
. Most research so far has focused on
simplified ‘model’ communities. Yet, in nature, food webs are complex
networks with dozens to thousands of species, have reticulate webs of
indirect and nonlinear interactions, and contain mismatches in the
spatial and temporal dynamicsof interacting organisms. This complexity
can appear to preclude predictability. But recent theory
86,87
and experi-
ments
88,89
suggest that food-web structure, interactions and stability can
be predicted by a small subset of traits such as organismal body size, the
degree of dietary generalism
88
and trophic level
89
. Simple trait-based
approaches hold promise for simplifying the inherent complexity of
Table 1
|
Balance of evidence linking biodiversity to ecosystem services
Category of service Measure of service provision SPU Diversity level Source Study type NRelationship
Predicted Actual
Provisioning
Crops Crop yield Plants Genetic DS Exp 575
Species DS Exp 100
Fisheries Stability of fisheries yield Fish Species PS Obs 8
Wood Wood production Plants Species DS Exp 53
Fodder Fodder yield Plants Species DS Exp 271
Regulating
Biocontrol Abundance of herbivorous pests
(bottom-up effect of plant diversity)
Plants Species DS*Obs 40
Plants Species DS
{
Exp 100
Plants Species DS
{
Exp 287
Plants Species DS
1
Exp 100
Abundance of herbivorous pests
(top-down effect of natural enemy
diversity)
Natural enemies Species/trait DS*Obs 18
Natural enemies Species DS
{
Exp/Obs 266
Natural enemies Species DS
{
Exp 38
Resistance to plant invasion Plants Species DS Exp 120
Disease prevalence (on plants) Plants Species DS Exp 107
Disease prevalence (on animals) Multiple Species DS Exp/Obs 45
Climate Primary production Plants Species DS Exp 7
Carbon sequestration Plants Species DS Exp 479
Carbon storage Plants Species/trait PS Obs 33
Soil Soil nutrient mineralization Plants Species DS Exp 103
Soil organic matter Plants Species DS Exp 85
Water Freshwater purification Multiple Genetic/species PS Exp 8
Pollination Pollination Insects Species PS Obs 7
For each ecosystemservice we searched the ISI Web of Knowledge for published data syntheses (DS). The footnote symbols in the ‘Source’ column refer to differentsyntheses. When a synthesis was not available, we
completed our own primary search(PS, see Box 2). Detailed results are given in Supplementary Table 2.Data presented here are summarized as follows: green, actual data relationships agree with predictions
(whetherservice increases or decreases as diversity increases); yellow, Data show mixed results; red, data conflictwith predictions. Exp, experimental; N, number of data points;Obs, observed; SPU, service providing
unit (where natural enemies include predators, parasitoidsand pathogens). Note that 13 ecosystem services are not included in this table due to lack of data (,5 relationships, see Supplementary Table 2).
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natural food webs into a few key axes that strongly control ecosystem
functions and services. We need to better identify these traits and food-
web structures, and need better models to explain why certain food-web
properties control ecosystem functions and services.
Improving predictions
Increasing the complexity and realism of experiments, however, will not
be enough to move biodiversity research towards better forecasting. We
also need sets of models and statistical tools that help us move from
experiments that detail local biological processes to landscape-scale
patterns where management and policy take place (Fig. 2). One fruitful
approach may be to use data from BEF experiments to assign parameters
to local models of species interactions that predict how biodiversity has
an impact on ecosystem processes based on functional traits. These local
models could then be embedded into spatially explicit meta-community
and ecosystem models that incorporate habitat heterogeneity, dispersal
and abiotic drivers to predict relationships between biodiversity and
ecosystem services at the landscape level
18
. Statistical tools like structural
equation modelling might then be used to assess whether predictions of
these landscape models agree with observations from natural systems,
and to disentangle effects of biodiversity from other covarying environ-
mental factors
20
.
Ideally, predictions arising from landscape-level models would be
‘ground-truthed’ by assessing their ability to predict the outcome of real
restoration projects, or other management scenarios where policy actions
are being taken to protect ecosystem services
90
. For example, given land-
use pressure and climate change, freshwater supply is an ecosystem service
in high demand, and water funds are becoming a common finance mech-
anism through which downstream water consumers pay for upstream
changes in land use to achieve objectives like maintenance of water quality
(nutrient, sediment and bacterial loads)
91
. Major initiatives are underway
to standardize the design, implementation and monitoring of water funds,
including a pilot programme supported by the World Bank, the Inter-
American DevelopmentBank, FEMSA, and The Nature Conservancy that
spans 40 Latin American cities.
Initiatives like these represent opportunities to assess and refine our
ability to predict biodiversity–ecosystem service relationships on realistic
scales in situations where stake holders are expecting positive returns. For
example, BEFand BES researchers haveamassed substantialexperimental
evidence showing that speciesdiversity of plants and algaeincrease uptake
of nutrient pollutants from soil and water
12,24,25,33,63
. We have statistical
models that quantify the functional formof these effects
12,31
, and extensive
data on the functional traits that influence such processes in different
habitats
53,63,92
. One approach could involve developing spatially explicit
predictions of how biodiversity influences water quality in a modelled
watershed where local nutrient assimilation and retention are a function
of the number and types of functional traits that locally co-occur (that is,
traits of plants in a riparian zone, or of algae in a stream reach). One could
then integrate this spatially explicit, biologically realistic model into a
decision support tool (for example, InVEST (Integrated Valuation of
Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs))
93
to simulate changes in ecosystem
services at landscape scales where decision makers can assess trade-offs
associated with alternative land-use choices (Fig. 2). Choices made by
decision makers in real projects could, in turn, serve as ‘natural experi-
ments’ that provide biologists with an opportunity to test their predictions
against outcomes.
Valuing biodiversity
Economists have developed a wide array of tools to estimate the value of
natural and managed ecosystems and the market and non-marketed
services that they provide
94
. Although there are good estimates of
society’s willingness to pay for a number of non-marketed ecosystem
services, we still know little about the marginal value of biodiversity (that
is, value associated with changes in the variation of genes, species and
functional traits) in the production of those services. The economic value
of biodiversity loss derives from the value of the affected services.
Estimating this value requires calibration of ecosystem service ‘produc-
tion’ functions that link biodiversity, ecosystem processes and ecosystem
services. The derivative of such functions with respect to biodiversity
defines the marginal physical product of biodiversity (for example,
carbon sequestration or water purification), and when multiplied by
the value of the service, yields the marginal value of biodiversity change.
Researchers in the BEF and BES fields need to work more closely to
estimate the marginal value of biodiversity for ecosystem services. In
doing so, at least three challenges require attention. First, ecosystems
deliver multiple services, and many involve trade-offs in that increasing
the supply of one reduces the supply of another. For example, carbon
sequestration through afforestation or forest protection may enhance
timber production but reduce water supplies
95
. The value of biodiversity
change to society depends on the net marginal effect of the change on all
ecosystem services
96
. Future work needs to quantify the marginal
benefits of biodiversity (in terms of services gained) relative to marginal
costs (in terms of services lost).
Furthermore, many trade-offs among services occur at very different
spatial and temporal scales. The gains from simplifying ecosystems are
often local and short term, whereas the costs are transmitted to people in
other locations, or to future generations. For society to make informed
choices about land uses that have mixed effects, the science linking
If good match
Use statistical tools to t predicted data to
observed data from real watersheds
(e.g., structural equations modelling).
Use BEF experiments to assign parameters
to local models relating nutrient uptake to
diversity of producer functional traits.
Embed local model into ecosystem model
that predicts nutrient uptake as a function
of diversity in simulated watersheds.
Integrate spatially explicit, biologically
realistic model into a decision support tool
(e.g., InVEST )
Use InVEST to assess tradeoffs associated
with alternative land-use choices that
inuence water quality.
Use choices made by decision makers as
a 'natural experiment‘ to better match
predictions to outcomes.
If poor match
34
25
16
InVEST
Figure 2
|
Towards a better link between BEF and BES research. One of our
greatest challenges now is to take what we have learned from 20 years of
research and develop predictive models that are founded on empirically
quantified mechanisms, and that forecast changes in ecosystem services at
scales that are policy-relevant. We outline a hypothetical approach for linking
biodiversity to the maintenance of water quality atlandscape scales. Data from
BEF experiments are used to parameterize competition or niche models that
predict how biodiversity has an impact on nutrient assimilation and retention
(step 1). Local models are then embedded in spatially explicit meta-community
or ecosystem models that incorporate habitat heterogeneity, dispersal and
abiotic drivers to predict relationships betweenbiodiversity and water quality at
landscape scales (step 2). Predictions of the landscape model are compared to
observations from natural systems to assess fit, and statistical tools are used to
disentangle effects of biodiversity from other environmental factors (step 3).
Once a satisfactory fit is achieved, the model is integrated into a decision
support tool (for example, InVEST (step 4)), which is used to simulate changes
in ecosystem services at landscape scales where decision makers assess
alternative land-use choices (step 5). Choices made by decision makers in real
projects provide new data that allow biologists to refine their models and
predictions (step 6). Images from B.J.C., G.C.D., US EPA and
Shutterstock.com; used with permission.
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biodiversity to ecosystem functioning and services must be extended to
explore trade-offsbetween services at multiple temporal and spatialscales
so that information can be incorporated into models of optimal land use.
Finally, there is increasing interest in developing incentives to
encourage land holders to take full account of the ecosystem services
that are affected by their actions. The concept of ‘payments for eco-
system services’ has emerged as one tool for bringing market value to
ecosystems. Our Review has emphasized that many ecosystem services
ultimately depend on the variety of life forms that comprise an eco-
system and that control the ecological processes that underlie all
services. Therefore, successful plans to use payments for ecosystem
services will need to be founded on a solid understanding of the linkages
among biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and the production of eco-
system services
97
. This will require that such plans explicitly manage for
biodiversity change.
Responding to the call of policy initiatives
The significance of biodiversity for human wellbeing was recognized
20 years ago with the formation of the Convention on Biological
Diversity—an intergovernmental agreement among 193 countries to
support the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of
its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits. Despite
this agreement, evidence gathered in 2010 indicated that biodiversity
loss at the global scale was continuing, often at increasing rates
98
. This
observation stimulated a set of new targets for 2020 (the Aichi targets)
and, in parallel, governments have been negotiating the establishment of
a new assessment body, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform
on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The IPBES will be
charged with conducting regional, global and thematic assessments of
biodiversity and ecosystem services, and will depend on the inter-
national scientific community to assess trends and evaluate risks asso-
ciated with alternative patterns of development and changes in land use
99
.
Significant gaps in both the science and policy need attention if the
Aichi targets are to be met, and if future ecosystems are to provide the
range of services required to support more people sustainably
99
.We
have reported the scientific consensus that has emerged over 20 years
of biodiversity research, to help orient the next generation of research on
the links between biodiversity and the benefits ecosystems provide to
humanity. One of the greatest challenges now is to use what we have
learned to develop predictive models that are founded on empirically
quantified ecological mechanisms; that forecast changes in ecosystem
services at scales that are policy-relevant; and that link to social, economic
and political systems. Without an understanding of the fundamental
ecological processes that link biodiversity, ecosystem functions and
services, attempts to forecast the societal consequences of diversity loss,
and to meet policy objectives, are likely to fail
100
. But with that fun-
damental understanding in hand, we may yet bring the modern era of
biodiversity loss to a safe end for humanity.
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www.nature.com/nature.
Acknowledgements This work was conceived as a part of the working group,
Biodiversity and the Functioning of Ecosystems: Translating Model Experiments into
Functional Reality, supported by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and
Synthesis, a Center funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF Grant
EF-0553768), the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the State of California.
Additional funds were provided by NFS’ DIMENSIONS of Biodiversity program to BJC
(DEB-104612), and by the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Research Training
Network (BESTNet) (NSF Grant 0639252). The use of trade names is for descriptive
purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.
Author Information Reprints and permissions information is available at
www.nature.com/reprints. The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Readers are welcome to comment on the online version of this article at
www.nature.com/nature. Correspondence should be addressed to B.C.
(bradcard@umich.edu).
REVIEW RESEARCH
7 JUNE 2012 | VOL 486 | NATURE | 67
Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
©2012
CORRECTIONS & AMENDMENTS
CORRIGENDUM
doi:10.1038/nature11373
Corrigendum: Biodiversity loss and
its impact on humanity
Bradley J. Cardinale, J. Emmett Duffy, Andrew Gonzalez,
David U. Hooper, Charles Perrings, Patrick Venail,
Anita Narwani, Georgina M. Mace, David Tilman,
David A.Wardle, Ann P. Kinzig, Gretchen C. Daily,
Michel Loreau, James B. Grace, Anne Larigauderie,
Diane S. Srivastava & Shahid Naeem
Nature 486, 59–67 (2012); doi:10.1038/nature11148
In Table 1 and Supplementary Table 2 of this Review, under the
‘Category of service’ called ‘Regulating’, the first two ‘Measures of
service provision’ related to ‘Biocontrol’ should read ‘Abundance of
herbivorous pests’ instead of ‘Control of herbivorous pests’. With this
word change, a downward arrow for either the predicted or actual
diversity–service relationship would indicate that the abundance of
herbivorous pests declines (and biocontrol increases) with increasing
plant diversity. This does not alter any of our conclusions, because all
diversity–service relationships were correctly described in the text of
the manuscript itself. These errors have been corrected online in the
HTML and PDF versions of the original Review, and in the original
Supplementary Information.
326 | NATURE | VOL 489 | 13 SEPTEMBER 2012
Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
©2012
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