March 07, 2011
Diverse Plant Communities Contain More Biomass

Reducing the number of plant species in an area reduces the productivity of that area.

An international team of researchers including professor Emmett Duffy of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science has published a comprehensive new analysis showing that loss of plant biodiversity disrupts the fundamental services that ecosystems provide to humanity.

This makes intuitive sense because different plants occupying the same niche each bring their own specializations of function that enable them to exploit different parts of that niche.

The team’s analysis shows that plant communities with many different species are nearly 1.5 times more productive than those with only one species (such as a cornfield or carefully tended lawn), and ongoing research finds even stronger benefits of diversity when the various other important natural services of ecosystems are considered. Diverse communities are also more efficient at capturing nutrients, light, and other limiting resources.

The analysis also suggests, based on laboratory studies of algae, that diverse plant communities generate oxygen—and take-up carbon dioxide—more than twice as fast as plant monocultures.

As humans shift more and more land into human uses the total biomass on the planet could substantially decline. In fact, that's probably already happened given the large areas now under human control. Though farming in more naturally barren regions could deliver the opposite effect of more biomass when extensive irrigation enables conversion of deserts into farm land.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 March 07 10:31 PM  Trends Agriculture


Comments
back40 said at March 8, 2011 12:03 AM:

A polyculture can exploit resource partitioning. Plants may see a single nutrient axis (e.g., N), as a diversity of axes since some are ammonium, nitrate, or amino acid specialists. It is worth noting that the above ground diversity is mirrored below ground where the real biomass volume is found, and that they also participate in, and contribute to, resource partitioning of the biotope space.

Russ said at March 8, 2011 6:10 AM:

It's possible, though anecdotally, to see some of this historically. During campaigns against the Haudenosaunee prior to the American Revolution, colonial troops were astounded by the height of the corn which was planted in Mohawk territory, reporting stalks as high as 16 feet tall. One of the advantages of polycultural corn planting is that the corn roots will generally coexist with other plants in the area, thus giving rise to the traditional "three sisters" method of agriculture (corn, beans, squash planted together).

Gyorgy Magyary said at March 8, 2011 6:25 PM:

Long-term monoculture leads to equalizing down. In fact the dependent and addicted to the ground, If removing the crutch will degrade the balance of minerals wich cease to exist.
As in mathematics, reduced to common denominator is zeroed: end of line

BioBob said at March 8, 2011 6:28 PM:

These conclusions are part of basic community ecology & evolutionary concepts and well known for decades.

Paul said at March 13, 2011 11:56 AM:

The notion that a diverse ecosystem has higher productivity goes all the way back to Darwin. It's in Origin of Species.

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