In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • History
  • Important Experiments
  • Debate
  • The General Relationship between Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning
  • Functional Diversity
  • Genotypic Diversity
  • Trophic Interactions
  • Pathogens and the BEF Relationship
  • Biodiversity and Stability
  • Ecosystem Multifunctionality
  • Ecosystem Services

Ecology Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning
Jasper van Ruijven
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0126


In the field of ecology, biodiversity-ecosystem functioning (BEF) research is a relative newcomer. In 1991, one year before the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro at which 193 countries agreed to support the conservation of biological diversity, ecologists reviewed what was known about the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. The latter includes all the biogeochemical processes that operate in ecosystems, such as primary production. Since then, this synthesis of biodiversity studies and ecosystem ecology has become a major field in ecology, with hundreds of experiments manipulating diversity of more than five hundred types of organisms in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Meta-analyses of these experiments generally show a positive relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, a pattern that is consistent across trophic groups (producers, herbivores, predators) and ecosystems (terrestrial and aquatic). Primary research has moved on from a focus on the pattern (the relationship between biodiversity and an ecosystem function) to a search for a mechanistic understanding of the effects of biodiversity loss. Extrapolating the results of BEF research to ecosystem services at the landscape level is a major challenge for the future.

General Overviews

Schulze and Mooney 1993 gives an overview of the original hypotheses and ideas that laid the foundation for BEF research. Loreau, et al. 2002 includes chapters written by speakers from the second conference in 2000, designed to synthesize the first ten years of research. A summary of this synthesis is given in Loreau, et al. 2001. Kinzig, et al. 2002 provides new insights by linking the latest experimental results to a common theoretical framework. An important scientific consensus paper, after the heated debates that took place in the first decade of research (see History), is Hooper, et al. 2005. One of the first books to incorporate economics into BEF is Naeem, et al. 2009. A recent short and comprehensive overview is provided in Hector and Wilby 2009. Gessner, et al. 2010 is a recent review of biodiversity-litter decomposition studies, specifically comparing aquatic and terrestrial systems. A recent review, Cardinale, et al. 2012 provides six consensus statements and four emerging trends about biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships.

  • Cardinale, Brad J., J. Emmett Duffy, Andrew Gonzalez, et al. 2012. Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity. Nature 486:59–67.

    DOI: 10.1038/nature11148

    A recent, highly accessible review of twenty years of BEF research. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Gessner, Mark O., Christopher M. Swan, Christian K. Dang, et al. 2010. Diversity meets decomposition. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 25:372–380.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2010.01.010

    A balanced review of the effects of biodiversity at different trophic levels involved with the decomposition of organic matter, a process that is very important for the dynamics of carbon and nutrients in ecosystems. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Hector, Andrew, and Andy Wilby. 2009. Biodiversity and ecosystem function. In The Princeton guide to ecology. Edited by Simon A. Levin, 367–375. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    An excellent introductory textbook to ecology for undergraduates and graduate students. Chapter 3.14 discusses BEF research.

  • Hooper, David U., F. Stuart Chapin, John J. Ewel, et al. 2005. Effects of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning: A consensus of current knowledge. Ecological Monographs 75:3–35.

    DOI: 10.1890/04-0922

    An important attempt at consensus in BEF research. A good review as a starting point to the field for graduate students and researchers. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Kinzig, Ann, Stephen W. Pacala, and David Tilman. 2002. The functional consequences of biodiversity: Empirical progress and theoretical extensions. Monographs in Population Biology 33. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    This book from the well-known Princeton monograph series extended current knowledge by linking the latest empirical results to a set of theoretical approaches, including coexistence theory.

  • Loreau, Michel, Shahid Naeem, and Pablo Inchausti. 2002. Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: Synthesis and perspectives. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Wide-ranging collection of overviews, position papers, and workshop reports of a conference synthesizing the first ten years of BEF research.

  • Loreau, Michel, Shahid Naeem, Pablo Inchausti, et al. 2001. Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: Current knowledge and future challenges. Science 294:804–808.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.1064088

    A balanced and easy-to-read overview of the first ten years of BEF research and a good introduction to the topic for graduate students. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Naeem, Shahid, Daniel E. Bunker, Andy Hector, Michel Loreau, and Charles Pennings. 2009. Biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and human wellbeing: An ecological and economic perspective. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199547951.001.0001

    The follow-up to Loreau, et al. 2002. It gives an overview of the recent advances in BEF research and explores the economics of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Suitable for graduate students.

  • Schulze, Ernst-Detlef, and Harold A. Mooney. 1993. Biodiversity and ecosystem function. Berlin: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-58001-7

    An influential book, which synthesized the ideas and hypotheses put forward at the first conference on the topic in 1991.

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