Better, worse, or both? The temporal paradox of diverse plant communities

Multiple things change over time and biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning seems to be one of this. Usually, biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning increase over time. Yet, we did not know if this was the result of function increasing in high diversity communities, decreasing in low diversity communities, or both thing happening at the same time. Until now.

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The paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution is here:

Imagine for a moment that your favourite football team is improving year after year and is heads and shoulders above other teams in the league. Your team’s success can be the result of the good performance of your team, the bad performance of the other teams or both things happening at the same time. Now, let’s get back to forests and grasslands. Evidence suggests that high diversity plant communities are doing better year after year, breaking away from low diversity communities (in terms of their biomass production). This can be the result of how well high diversity communities are doing, that low diversity communities are doing worse, or both.

In our paper, we wanted to show the “behind the scenes” of temporal changes in biodiversity effects. To do that, we initiated an international collaboration of researchers involved in grassland and forest biodiversity research.  Leading this paper has been a unique learning experience for me. As the junior researcher in the group, this paper provided me with 20 mentors in different areas, e.g. grassland and forest ecology, data management, statistics, and scientific writing. Yet, understand and integrate different points of view in a multi-author collaboration can be challenging at times. A key ingredient, to start the project and to keep the ball moving, was good communication. As a non-native English speaker, I have been always been afraid to miscommunicate my ideas or misinterpret the ideas of others. Sometimes it is impossible to avoid misunderstandings despite spending hours checking the email that you are about to send. Yet it is usually an opportunity to clarify and move towards a common goal: the clearest, most concise expression of our findings. 

Grassland and forest biodiversity experiments. Picture of the grassland experiment from the Jena Biodiversity experiment (Germany) is provided courtesy of Anja Vogel and the picture of the forest experiment is from the Sardinilla Experiment (Panama).

Talking about the ideas during workshops at my research institute ( was a productive part of the process too. Each workshop was a unique opportunity to interact with potential collaborators and receive feedback from a large community interested in biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.  

This paper is the “kick-off” to understanding how and why biodiversity effects change over time. We still have a lot of work in front of us, from assessing temporal trends of other ecosystem functions to strengthening our mechanistic understanding of temporal changes, e.g. accumulation of pathogens.

The paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution is here:

Nathaly Guerrero Ramirez

Doctoral researcher, German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv)