Species richness, environmental fluctuations, and temporal change in total community biomass


  • Owen L. Petchey,

  • Tim Casey,

  • Lin Jiang,

  • P. Timon McPhearson,

  • Jennifer Price

O. L. Petchey, T. Casey, L. Jiang, P. T. McPhearson and J. Price, Dept of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, Cook College, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ 08901, USA (current address of OLP, Dept of Animal and Plant Sciences, Alfred Denny Building, Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TN, U.K. [o.petchey@sheffield.ac.uk]).


Theory and empirical results suggest that high biodiversity should often cause lower temporal variability in aggregate community properties such as total community biomass. We assembled microbial communities containing 2 to 8 species of competitors in aquatic microcosms and found that the temporal change in total community biomass was positively but insignificantly associated with diversity in a constant temperature environment. There was no evidence of any trend in variable temperature environments. Three non-exclusive mechanisms might explain the lack of a net stabilising effect of species richness on temporal change. (1) A direct destabilising effect of diversity on population level variances caused some populations to vary more when embedded in more diverse communities. (2) Similar responses of the different species to environmental variability might have limited any insurance effect of increased species richness. (3) Large differences in the population level variability of different species (i.e., unevenness) could weaken the relation between species richness and community level stability. These three mechanisms may outweigh the stabilising effects of increases in total community biomass with diversity, statistical averaging, and slightly more negative covariance in more diverse communities. Our experiment and analyses advocate for further experimental investigations of diversity-variability relations.