Nutrient enrichment weakens the stabilizing effect of species richness

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With global freshwater biodiversity declining at an even faster rate than in the most disturbed terrestrial ecosystems, understanding the effects of changing environmental conditions on relationships between biodiversity and the variability of community and population processes in aquatic ecosystems is of significant interest. Evidence is accumulating that biodiversity loss results in more variable communities; however, the mechanisms underlying this effect have been the subject of considerable debate. We manipulated species richness and nutrients in outdoor aquatic microcosms composed of naturally occurring assemblages of zooplankton and benthic invertebrates to determine how the relationship between species richness and variability might change under different nutrient conditions. Temporal variability of populations and communities decreased with increasing species richness in low nutrient microcosms. In contrast, we found no relationship between species richness and either population or community variability in nutrient enriched microcosms. Of the different mechanisms we investigated (e.g. overyielding, statistical averaging, insurance effects, and the stabilizing effect of species richness on populations) the only one that was consistent with our results was that increases in species richness led to more stable community abundances through the stabilizing effect of species richness on the component populations. While we cannot conclusively determine the mechanism(s) by which species richness stabilized populations, our results suggest that more complete resource-use in the more species-rich low nutrient communities may have dampened population fluctuations.

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