The roles of community biomass and species pools in the regulation of plant diversity


  • James B. Grace

J. B. Grace, U.S. Geological Survey, National Wetlands Research Center, 700 Cajundome Blvd, Lafayette, LA 70506, USA (


Considerable debate has developed over the importance of community biomass and species pools in the regulation of community diversity. Attempts to explain patterns of plant diversity as a function of community biomass or productivity have been only partially successful and, in general, have explained only a fraction of the observed variation in diversity. At the same time, studies that have focused on the importance of species pools have led some to conclude that diversity is primarily regulated in the short term by the size of the species pool rather than by biotic interactions. In this paper, I explore how community biomass and species pools may work in combination to regulate diversity in herbaceous plant communities. To address this problem, I employ a simple model in which the dynamics of species richness are a function of aboveground community biomass and environmentally controlled gradients in species pools. Model results lead to two main predictions about the role of biomass regulation: (1) Seasonal dynamics of richness will tend to follow a regular oscillation, with richness rising to peak values during the early to middle portion of the growing season and then declining during the latter part of the season. (2) Seasonal dieback of aboveground tissues facilitates the long-term maintenance of high levels of richness in the community. The persistence of aboveground tissues and accumulation of litter are especially important in limiting the number of species through the suppression of recruitment. Model results also lead to two main predictions about the role of species pools: (1) The height and position of peak richness relative to community biomass will be influenced by the rate at which the species pool increases as available soil resources increase. (2) Variations in nonresource environmental factors (e.g. soil pH or soil salinity) have the potential to regulate species pools in a way that is uncorrelated with aboveground biomass. Under extreme conditions, such nonresource effects can create a unimodal envelope of biomass–richness values. Available evidence from the literature provides partial support for these predictions, though additional data are needed to provide more convincing tests.