Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning

Biodiversity is thought to be important for sustaining ecosystem function and services vital to society, such as pollination. With bee pollination being estimated to have a worldwide economic value of $112 billion it is consequently of great societal importance to understand the nature of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.  

Over the past decades, there have been several attempts to determine the extent to which biodiversity impacts upon ecosystem functioning. The first of its kind, the ‘Ecotron’ (created by Imperial College), aimed to mimic a natural ecosystem in a highly controlled chamber and concluded that increased biodiversity did increase ecosystem functioning finding increased biomass in more biodiverse models. However, other similar studies conducted since the ‘Ecotron’ experiment, such as the ‘Mudotron’ model, found that increased biodiversity had no impact or even a negative impact in some cases on ecosystem functioning, consequently highlighting the complexity of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem function.

It is now generally thought that the variety of complementary species (i.e. species with separate niches for example) rather than total variety, is more influential when determining ecosystem functioning, and consequently, such factors must be taken into account during conservation efforts.

Figure 1 – A bee pollinating a plant

‘Pollination’, 2009, Graphic, David Shea, Source- (accessed 12/1/19)

Key Terms:

Biodiversity – The variation of life at all levels of biological organisation, from genes to species to ecosystems (see Introduction to Biodiversity article for more information)

Biomass – The total quantity or weight of organisms in a given volume.

Ecosystem function – The biological, geochemical and physical processes that take place within an ecosystem ensuring its integrity.

Ecosystem services – The societal benefits obtained from ecosystems.

Niche – The area and role in which an organism inhabits (see Niches article for more information)

Pollination – The act of transferring pollen to fertilise a plant

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