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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Nov 4;105(44):17012-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0805962105. Epub 2008 Oct 29.

Evolutionary history and the effect of biodiversity on plant productivity.

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  • 1National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California, 735 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA.


Loss of biological diversity because of extinction is one of the most pronounced changes to the global environment. For several decades, researchers have tried to understand how changes in biodiversity might impact biomass production by examining how biomass correlates with a number of biodiversity metrics (especially the number of species and functional groups). This body of research has focused on species with the implicit assumption that they are independent entities. However, functional and ecological similarities are shaped by patterns of common ancestry, such that distantly related species might contribute more to production than close relatives, perhaps by increasing niche breadth. Here, we analyze 2 decades of experiments performed in grassland ecosystems throughout the world and examine whether the evolutionary relationships among the species comprising a community predict how biodiversity impacts plant biomass production. We show that the amount of phylogenetic diversity within communities explained significantly more variation in plant community biomass than other measures of diversity, such as the number of species or functional groups. Our results reveal how evolutionary history can provide critical information for understanding, predicting, and potentially ameliorating the effects of biodiversity loss and should serve as an impetus for new biodiversity experiments.

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