Study links Biodiversity and Ecosystem Stability

Posted on November 3, 2015 by Allegra Mount in Restoration Science

For years it has been postulated, but remains unclear, whether biodiversity buffers ecosystems against severe climate events. As these events are becoming more frequent nationwide, scientists have become increasingly interested in this question. A recent study published in the journal Nature took a look at 46 different experiments  that manipulated grassland plant diversity to test whether biodiversity provides resistance during and resilience after climate events.


In the study, ecosystem stability is distinguished from ecosystem resilience. Stability refers as the ability of the system to resist changes in productivity; resilience refers to the ability of the system to recover losses. Through this careful study, we now have scientific evidence that ecosystem stability benefits greatly from high biodiversity, but there was not an observable link to ecosystem resilience.

Some highlights from the article:

  • Biodiversity increased ecosystem resistance for a broad range of climate events, including wet or dry, moderate or extreme, and brief or prolonged events.
  • Across all studies and climate events, the productivity of low-diversity communities with one or two species changed by approximately 50% during climate events, whereas that of high-diversity communities with 16–32 species was more resistant, changing by only approximately 25%
  • In most of the studies, low and high diversity communities rebounded within approximately 1 year of the end of the climate event, showing yet no link between ecosystem resilience and biodiversity.
  • By participating in activities that raise biodiversity, humans increase an ecosystem’s stability and resistance to damage and productivity loss caused by extreme climate events.


This author thinks an interesting area for future thought or study could be the bounce-back capabilities (or resilience) of low and high biodiversity communities following repeat climate events. How would the communities compare in their abilities to return to or surpass previous levels of stability following multiple extreme climate events? What are the implications if we think on a broader timeframe?



Resource: Isbell, F. et al. Biodiversity increases the resistance of ecosystem productivity to climate extremes (2015). Nature 526, 574–577. Online here.


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