Bacterial biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relations are modified by environmental complexity

Silke Langenheder, Mark T Bulling, Martin Solan, James I Prosser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Citations (Scopus)
18 Downloads (Pure)



With the recognition that environmental change resulting from anthropogenic activities is causing a global decline in biodiversity, much attention has been devoted to understanding how changes in biodiversity may alter levels of ecosystem functioning. Although environmental complexity has long been recognised as a major driving force in evolutionary processes, it has only recently been incorporated into biodiversity-ecosystem functioning investigations. Environmental complexity is expected to strengthen the positive effect of species richness on ecosystem functioning, mainly because it leads to stronger complementarity effects, such as resource partitioning and facilitative interactions among species when the number of available resource increases.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Here we implemented an experiment to test the combined effect of species richness and environmental complexity, more specifically, resource richness on ecosystem functioning over time. We show, using all possible combinations of species within a bacterial community consisting of six species, and all possible combinations of three substrates, that diversity-functioning (metabolic activity) relationships change over time from linear to saturated. This was probably caused by a combination of limited complementarity effects and negative interactions among competing species as the experiment progressed. Even though species richness and resource richness both enhanced ecosystem functioning, they did so independently from each other. Instead there were complex interactions between particular species and substrate combinations.


Our study shows clearly that both species richness and environmental complexity increase ecosystem functioning. The finding that there was no direct interaction between these two factors, but that instead rather complex interactions between combinations of certain species and resources underlie positive biodiversity ecosystem functioning relationships, suggests that detailed knowledge of how individual species interact with complex natural environments will be required in order to make reliable predictions about how altered levels of biodiversity will most likely affect ecosystem functioning.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere10834
Number of pages9
JournalPloS ONE
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2010


  • bacteria
  • biodiversity
  • linear models
  • models, biological
  • species specificity
  • time factors


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