Mechanisms contributing to stability in ecosystem function depend on the environmental context

Authors

  • Emily Grman,

    Corresponding author
    1. Plant Biology Department, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA
    2. W. K. Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University, Hickory Corners, MI 49060, USA
      Correspondence: E-mail:grmanemi@msu.edu
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  • Jennifer A. Lau,

    1. Plant Biology Department, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA
    2. W. K. Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University, Hickory Corners, MI 49060, USA
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  • Donald R. Schoolmaster Jr.,

    1. W. K. Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University, Hickory Corners, MI 49060, USA
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  • Katherine L. Gross

    1. Plant Biology Department, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA
    2. W. K. Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University, Hickory Corners, MI 49060, USA
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Correspondence: E-mail:grmanemi@msu.edu

Abstract

Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 1400–1410

Abstract

Stability in ecosystem function is an important but poorly understood phenomenon. Anthropogenic perturbations alter communities, but how they change stability and the strength of stabilizing mechanisms is not clear. We examined temporal stability (invariability) in aboveground productivity in replicated 18-year time series of experimentally perturbed grassland plant communities. We found that disturbed annual-dominated communities were more stable than undisturbed perennial communities, coincident with increases in the stabilizing effect of mean–variance scaling. We also found that nitrogen-fertilized communities maintained stability despite losses in species richness, probably because of increased compensatory dynamics and increased dominance by particularly stable dominant species. Among our communities, slight variation in diversity was not the strongest mechanism driving differences in stability. Instead, our study suggests that decreases in individual species variabilities and increases in the relative abundance of stable dominant species may help maintain stability in the functioning of ecosystems confronted with eutrophication, disturbance, and other global changes.

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