1. Recent theoretical studies suggest that the stability of ecosystem processes is not governed by diversity per se, but by multitrophic interactions in complex communities. However, experimental evidence supporting this assumption is scarce.
2. We investigated the impact of plant diversity and the presence of above- and below-ground invertebrates on the stability of plant community productivity in space and time, as well as the interrelationship between both stability measures in experimental grassland communities.
3. We sampled above-ground plant biomass on subplots with manipulated above- and below-ground invertebrate densities of a grassland biodiversity experiment (Jena Experiment) 1, 4 and 6 years after the establishment of the treatments to investigate temporal stability. Moreover, we harvested spatial replicates at the last sampling date to explore spatial stability.
4. The coefficient of variation of spatial and temporal replicates served as a proxy for ecosystem stability. Both spatial and temporal stability increased to a similar extent with plant diversity. Moreover, there was a positive correlation between spatial and temporal stability, and elevated plant density might be a crucial factor governing the stability of diverse plant communities.
5. Above-ground insects generally increased temporal stability, whereas impacts of both earthworms and above-ground insects depended on plant species richness and the presence of grasses. These results suggest that inconsistent results of previous studies on the diversity–stability relationship have in part been due to neglecting higher trophic-level interactions governing ecosystem stability.
6. Changes in plant species diversity in one trophic level are thus unlikely to mirror changes in multitrophic interrelationships. Our results suggest that both above- and below-ground invertebrates decouple the relationship between spatial and temporal stability of plant community productivity by differently affecting the homogenizing mechanisms of plants in diverse plant communities.
7.Synthesis. Species extinctions and accompanying changes in multitrophic interactions are likely to result not only in alterations in the magnitude of ecosystem functions but also in its variability complicating the assessment and prediction of consequences of current biodiversity loss.