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The Role of Biodiversity

  1. Andrew Wilby1,
  2. Andy Hector2

Published Online: 15 DEC 2008

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0021228



How to Cite

Wilby, A. and Hector, A. 2008. The Role of Biodiversity. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. 1

    Lancaster University, Lancaster, Lancashire, UK

  2. 2

    University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2008


Human activities have caused widespread loss of biodiversity raising concern about the potential impact on ecosystem processes (flows of energy and materials). A large body of recent research has shown that as species are lost from ecosystems there is, generally, a minor impact on ecosystem processes, but that this impact increases disproportionately as species diversity declines. Functional complementarity among species, due to variation in the ecological niches they occupy, appears to be the main mechanism driving this pattern. Species diversity is also usually positively related to ecosystem stability, i.e. their variation through time and the resistance and resilience to perturbation. These findings are already powerful arguments for the conservation of biodiversity, though current research aims to increase their relevance to the real world by including a more extensive range of ecosystems and processes, realistic food web structures, realistic (nonrandom) extinction scenarios and larger spatial scales.


  • ecosystem functioning;
  • ecosystem stability;
  • species diversity;
  • conservation biology