Discontinuity in the responses of ecosystem processes and multifunctionality to altered soil community composition

Mark A. Bradford, Stephen A. Wood, Richard D. Bardgett, Helaina I J Black, Michael Bonkowski, Till Eggers, Susan J. Grayston, Ellen Kandeler, Peter Manning, Heikki Setälä, T. Hefin Jones

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Ecosystem management policies increasingly emphasize provision of multiple, as opposed to single, ecosystem services. Management for such "multifunctionality" has stimulated research into the role that biodiversity plays in providing desired rates of multiple ecosystem processes. Positive effects of biodiversity on indices of multifunctionality are consistently found, primarily because species that are redundant for one ecosystem process under a given set of environmental conditions play a distinct role under different conditions or in the provision of another ecosystem process. Here we show that the positive effects of diversity (specifically community composition) on multifunctionality indices can also arise from a statistical fallacy analogous to Simpson's paradox (where aggregating data obscures causal relationships). We manipulated soil faunal community composition in combination with nitrogen fertilization of model grassland ecosystems and repeatedly measured five ecosystem processes related to plant productivity, carbon storage, and nutrient turnover. We calculated three common multifunctionality indices based on these processes and found that the functional complexity of the soil communities had a consistent positive effect on the indices. However, only two of the five ecosystem processes also responded positively to increasing complexity, whereas the other three responded neutrally or negatively. Furthermore, none of the individual processes responded to both the complexity and the nitrogen manipulations in a manner consistent with the indices. Our data show that multifunctionality indices can obscure relationships that exist between communities and key ecosystem processes, leading us to question their use in advancing theoretical understanding-and in management decisions-about how biodiversity is related to the provision of multiple ecosystem services.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)14478-14483
    Number of pages5
    JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
    Issue number40
    Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2014


    • Aboveground-belowground interactions
    • Ecosystem functioning plant-soil feedbacks
    • Soil biodiversity
    • Soil fauna


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