How species diversity influences ecosystem functioning has been the subject of many experiments and remains a key question for ecology and conservation biology. However, the fact that diversity cannot be manipulated without affecting species composition makes this quest methodologically challenging. Here, we evaluate the relative importance of diversity and of composition on biomass production, by using partial Mantel tests for one variable while controlling for the other. We analyse two datasets, from the Jena (2002–2008) and the Grandcour (2008–2009) Experiments. In both experiments, plots were sown with different numbers of species to unravel mechanisms underlying the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (BEF). Contrary to Jena, plots were neither mowed nor weeded in Grandcour, allowing external species to establish. Based on the diversity–ecosystem functioning and competition theories, we tested two predictions: 1) the contribution of composition should increase with time; 2) the contribution of composition should be more important in non-weeded than in controlled systems. We found support for the second hypothesis, but not for the first. On the contrary, the contribution of species richness became markedly more important few years after the start of the Jena Experiment. This result can be interpreted as suggesting that species complementarity, rather than intraspecific competition, is the driving force in this system. Finally, we explored to what extent the estimated relative importance of both factors varied when measured on different spatial scales of the experiment (in this case, increasing the number of plots included in the analyses). We found a strong effect of scale, suggesting that comparisons between studies, and more generally the extrapolation of results from experiments to natural situations, should be made with caution.
Sandau N, Fabian Y, Bruggisser OT, Rohr RP, Naisbit RE, Kehrli P, Aebi A and Bersier LF (published online) The relative contributions of species richness and species composition to ecosystem functioning Oikos (doi: 10.1111/oik.03901)
1. Understanding the environmental factors that structure biodiversity and food webs among communities is central to assess and mitigate the impact of landscape changes.
2. Wildflower strips are ecological compensation areas established in farmland to increase pollination services and biological control of crop pests and to conserve insect diversity. They are arranged in networks in order to favour high species richness and abundance of the fauna.
3. We describe results from experimental wildflower strips in a fragmented agricultural landscape, comparing the importance of landscape, of spatial arrangement and of vegetation on the diversity and abundance of trap-nesting bees, wasps and their enemies, and the structure of their food webs.
4. The proportion of forest cover close to the wildflower strips and the landscape heterogeneity stood out as the most influential landscape elements, resulting in a more complex trap-nest community with higher abundance and richness of hosts, and with more links between species in the food webs and a higher diversity of interactions. We disentangled the underlying mechanisms for variation in these quantitative food web metrics.
5. We conclude that in order to increase the diversity and abundance of pollinators and biological control agents and to favour a potentially stable community of cavity-nesting hymenoptera in wildflower strips, more investment is needed in the conservation and establishment of forest habitats within agro-ecosystems, as a reservoir of beneficial insect populations.
Fabian Y, Sandau N, Bruggisser OT, Aebi A, Kehrli P, RE and Bersier LF (in press) The importance of landscape and spatial structure for hymenopteran-based food webs in an agro-ecosystem. Journal of Applied Ecology The importance of landscape and spatial structure for hymenopteran-based food webs in an agro-ecosystem dpi:10.1111/1365-2656.12103
Wildflower strips are used to increase natural enemies of crop pests and to con- serve insect diversity on farmland. Mollusks, especially slugs, can affect the vege- tation development in these strips considerably. Although recent theoretical work suggests that more diverse plant communities will exhibit greater resistance against herbivore pressure, empirical studies are scarce. We conducted a semi-natural experiment in wildflower strips, manipulating trophic structure (reduction in herbivorous mollusks and reduction in major predators) and plant diversity (2, 6, 12, 20 and 24 sown species). This design allowed us to assess the effect of plant diversity, biomass and composition on mollusks, and vice versa, the effect of mollusc abundance on vegetation. Seven species of mollusks were found in the strips, with the slugs Arion lusitanicus, Deroceras reticulatum and Deroceras panormitanum being most frequent. We found a negative relationship between plant diversity and mollusk abundance, which was due predominantly to a decrease in the agricultural pest species A. lusitanicus. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that plant diversity can reduce the impact of her- bivores. However, plant identity also had an effect on mollusks, and accounted for a much larger fraction of the variation in mollusk communities than biodi- versity effects. While overall plant diversity decreased during the 3 years of the study, in the final year the highest plant diversity was found in the plots where mollusk populations were experimentally reduced. We conclude that selective feeding by generalist herbivores leads to changes in plant community composi- tion and hence reduced plant diversity. Our results highlight the importance of plant biodiversity as protection against generalist herbivores, which if abundant can in the long term negatively impact plant diversity, driving the system along a “low plant diversity – high mollusk abundance” trajectory.