The loss of biodiversity in European grasslands will make them less productive, reducing the amount of energy available to the rest of the food chain and threatening the overall health of the ecosystem, say results from one of the world's most extensive ecological studies (Science 5 November 1999). BIODEPTH (Biodiversity and Ecological Processes in Terrestrial Herbaceous Ecosystems) is an EU-funded programme as part of the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Initiative (TERI). A team of 34 scientists from 8 European countries participated in this study, establishing a network of European field sites in natural and semi-natural plant communities along a North-West to South-East (Ireland to Greece) and a North-East to South-West (Sweden to Portugal) gradient through Europe. The German measuring site near Bayreuth was co-ordinated by Prof. Dr. E.-D. Schulze, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena, and his team from the Max Planck Institute and the University of Bayreuth.
Within BIODEPTH - a multinational collaboration to perform the same standardised experiment at a continental scale - experimental grassland communities were established that mimicked the gradual loss of biodiversity seen throughout Europe by creating replicate plant communities with reduced species richness. On each site, effects of reduced biodiversity on key ecosystem processes and structural characteristics were determined and quantified. The German site at Bayreuth focused on effects on productivity, nutrient cycling, soil nitrate leaching, decomposition, canopy architecture, competition and population biology of species involved.
The experimental manipulation of plant species diversity significantly changed the dynamics of those ecosystem processes. It affects ecosystem functioning and population dynamics. The productivity decreased linearly with decreasing species richness plant communities grow better in species-rich teams (see Figure). Harvest yields were found to increas
Contact: E.D. Schulze