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Reversibility of biodiversity declines & erosion of ecosystem function
Forest Isbell, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Ecology, Evolution & Behavior, University of Minnesota
We are investigating how global environmental changes, such as nutrient enrichment and habitat destruction, impact plant diversity, and how these changes in plant communities subsequently alter ecosystem functioning and services. Nutrient enrichment frequently decreases plant diversity, but the reversibility of these changes is rarely known. We found that a low biodiversity state persisted two decades after cessation of nutrient enrichment in grasslands, indicating that nutrient-induced biodiversity declines can be difficult to reverse. How much will these non-random species losses under chronic nutrient enrichment alter ecosystem functioning? We found that although nutrient enrichment initially increased productivity, it also led to losses of plant species that substantially eroded ecosystem productivity over time. Together, results from these long-term experiments suggest that changes in biodiversity can be abrupt and persistent, and can mediate the long-term impacts of some global environmental changes on ecosystem functioning and services.