Evenness drives consistent diversity effects in intensive grassland systems across 28 European sites

L. Kirwan, A. Luscher, M. T. Sebastia, J. A. Finn, Rosemary P. Collins, C. Porqueddu, Áslaug Helgadóttir, Ole H Baadshaug, C. Brophy, C. Coran, Sigridur Dalmannsdóttir, I. Delgado, Anjo Elgersma, Michael Fothergill, B. E. Frankow-Lindberg, Piotr Golinski, Philippe Grieu, Anne-maj Gustavsson, Mats Höglind, Olivier Huguenin-ElieC. Iliadis, Marit Jørgensen, Zydre Kadziuliene, T. Karyotis, Tor Lunnan, M. Malengier, S. Maltoni, V. Meyer, D. Nyfeler, P. Nykanen-Kurki, J. Parente, H. J. Smit, Ulrich Thumm, John Connolly

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260 Citations (SciVal)


Ecological and agronomic research suggests that increased crop diversity in species-poor intensive systems may improve their provision of ecosystem services. Such general predictions can have critical importance for worldwide food production and agricultural practice but are largely untested at higher levels of diversity. We propose new methodology for the design and analysis of experiments to quantify diversity-function relationships. Our methodology can quantify the relative strength of inter-specific interactions that contribute to a functional response, and can disentangle the separate contributions of species richness and relative abundance. Applying our methodology to data from a common experiment at 28 European sites, we show that the above-ground biomass of four-species mixtures (two legumes and two grasses) in intensive grassland systems was consistently greater than that expected from monoculture performance, even at high productivity levels. The magnitude of this effect generally resulted in transgressive overyielding. A combined analysis of first-year results across sites showed that the additional performance of mixtures was driven by the number and strength of pairwise inter-specific interactions and the evenness of the community. In general, all pairwise interactions contributed equally to the additional performance of mixtures; the grass-grass and legume-legume interactions were as strong as those between grasses and legumes. The combined analysis across geographical and temporal scales in our study provides a generality of interpretation of our results that would not have been possible from individual site analyses or experimentation at a single site. Our four-species agricultural grassland communities have proved a simple yet relevant model system for experimentation and development of methodology in diversity-function research. Our study establishes that principles derived from biodiversity research in extensive, semi-natural grassland systems are applicable in intensively managed grasslands with agricultural plant species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)530-539
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number3
Early online date12 Apr 2007
Publication statusPublished - May 2007


  • agricultural grassland
  • ecosystem functioning
  • evenness
  • intensive grasslands
  • inter-specific interactions
  • multi-site experiment
  • relative abundance
  • simplex design
  • species identity
  • transgressive overyielding


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