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Nature. 2002 Jun 20;417(6891):848-51.

Consumer versus resource control of species diversity and ecosystem functioning.

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  • 1Biology Department, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 4J1, Canada.


A key question in ecology is which factors control species diversity in a community. Two largely separate groups of ecologists have emphasized the importance of productivity or resource supply, and consumers or physical disturbance, respectively. These variables show unimodal relationships with diversity when manipulated in isolation. Recent multivariate models, however, predict that these factors interact, such that the disturbance diversity relationship depends on productivity, and vice versa. We tested these models in marine food webs, using field manipulations of nutrient resources and consumer pressure on rocky shores of contrasting productivity. Here we show that the effects of consumers and nutrients on diversity consistently depend on each other, and that the direction of their effects and peak diversity shift between sites of low and high productivity. Factorial meta-analysis of published experiments confirms these results across widely varying aquatic communities. Furthermore, our experiments demonstrate that these patterns extend to important ecosystem functions such as carbon storage and nitrogen retention. This suggests that human impacts on nutrient supply and food-web structure have strong and interdependent effects on species diversity and ecosystem functioning, and must therefore be managed together.

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