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Plant diversity and the stability of foodwebs




Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 42–46


Insect outbreaks in forest and agriculture monocultures led Charles Elton to propose, a half-century ago, that higher plant diversity stabilized animal foodweb dynamics in natural ecosystems. We tested this hypothesis by studying arthropod community dynamics in a long-term experimental manipulation of grassland plant species diversity. Over the course of a decade, we found that higher plant diversity increased the stability (i.e. lowered year-to-year variability) of a diverse (>700 species) arthropod community across trophic levels. As the number of plant species increased, the stability of both herbivore and predator species richness and of total herbivore abundance increased. The underlying mechanisms driving these diversity–stability relationships were plant diversity, via effects on primary productivity and plant community stability, and portfolio effects. Taken together, our results show that higher plant diversity provides more temporally consistent food and habitat resources to arthropod foodwebs. Consequently, actively managing for high plant diversity may have stronger than expected benefits for increasing animal diversity and controlling pest outbreaks.