Biodiversity increases biomass

In theory less biodiversity would not necessarily imply less biomass. But in reality – in case you were to try and replace all animals with pandas – somewhere along the line you may risk to overlook some important symbiotic connections. And what goes for animals and pandas goes for plants and bamboo, new research shows.

biodiversity increases biomass
The US National Science Foundation’s Cedar Creek Long-Term Ecological Research (NSF LTER) site in Minnesota. Here researchers have investigated the long-term biomass responses to increasing or reducing the diversity of plant species. After many years the plants in the most diverse plots of prairy and forest produced the highest amounts of biomass.

The more plant species per acre, the higher soil fertility and overall biomass become, a research team led by the University of Minnesota shows. This goes for different natural ecosystems, from grassland to forest.

In their Science publication the researchers write they have conducted long-term biodiversity experiments, in which plots of land were observed for 13 years or longer. They conclude such longer timescales are essential to observe all ‘diversity-dependent ecosystem feedbacks.’

Of course the correlation runs in both directions, suggesting Earth’s biodiversity crisis could further increase atmospheric CO2 levels.

Is biodiversity in forestry interest?

Perhaps it would be a good thing to apply these findings from natural ecosystems to managed ecosystems. As with pine beetle plague prevention, perhaps also for general productivity the forestry sector could benefit from mixing tree species – and allowing rich undergrowth.

In our ideal world you could either harvest that undergrowth biomass as woodchip for ethanol or – in case you’d prefer selective logging over clear-cutting – attain carbon credits for increased carbon sequestration.

And then of course there is agriculture too. If prairy with 16 different species of grass produces the highest amount of biomass, isn’t that exactly the type of [no doubt flowery and lovely looking] meadow our cows should be grazing?

© Rolf Schuttenhelm |

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