Cameron Wagg, Anne Ebeling, Christiane Roscher, Janneke Ravenek, Dörte Bachmann, Nico Eisenhauer, Liesje Mommer, Nina Buchmann, Helmut Hillebrand, Bernhard Schmid, Wolfgang W. Weisser

It has long been observed that a greater diversity of plant species can result in greater ecosystem productivity. It is thought that a greater diversity of species increases productivity because different species have evolved different characteristics (traits) to avoid competition for resources, both for soil nutrients belowground and light aboveground, and by growing at different times during the growing season. Using an experimental grassland experiment we could demonstrate that species differing only in aboveground leaf traits related to light competition results in larger species dominating the productivity of the community. However, when plant species varied in both leaf traits and the timing of growth and flowering during the growing season, we found that species were more productive on average when grown in mixed species communities than when grown as monocultures. Our findings indicate that species diversity increases ecosystem productivity due to the increase in both the spatial and temporal differences in how species acquire resources.

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Photograph provided by authors.