Historical context modifies plant diversity–community productivity relationships in alpine grassland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  • External authors:
  • Shan Luo
  • Bernhard Schmid
  • G. Kenny Png
  • Urs Schaffner
  • Huakun Zhou
  • Hou Xiangyang
  • Nick Ostle


1. While most studies yield positive relationships between biodiversity (B) and ecosystem functioning (EF), awareness is growing that BEF relationships can vary with ecological context. The awareness has led to increased efforts to understand how contemporary environmental context modifies BEF relationships, but the role of historical context, and the mechanisms by which it may influence biodiversity effects, remains poorly understood.
2. We examined how historical context alters plant diversity‒community productivity relationships via plant species interactions in alpine grassland. We also tested how historical context modifies interactions between plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi, which can potentially mediate the above processes.
3. We studied biodiversity effects on plant community productivity at two grassland sites with different histories related to grazing intensity — heavy versus light livestock grazing — but similar current management. We assembled experimental communities of identical species composition with plants from each of the two sites in disturbed soil from a contemporary heavily grazed grassland, ranging in species richness from one to two, three and six species. Moreover, we carried out a mycorrhizal hyphae-exclusion experiment to test how plant interactions with AM fungi influence plant responses to historical context.
4. We detected a significantly positive diversity‒productivity relationship that was driven by complementarity effects in communities composed of plants from the site without heavy grazing history, but no such relationship in plant communities composed of plants from the site with heavy-grazing history. Plants from the site with heavy-grazing history had increased competitive ability and increased yields in low-diversity communities but disrupted complementarity effects in high-diversity communities. Moreover, plants of one species from the site with heavy-grazing history benefitted more from AM fungal communities than did plants from the site without such history.
5. Synthesis: Using the same experimental 48 design and species, communities assembled by plants from two sites with different historical contexts showed different plant diversity‒ community productivity relationships. Our results suggest that historical context can alter plant diversity‒community productivity relationships via plant species interactions and potentially plant‒soil interactions. Therefore, considering historical contexts of ecological communities is of importance for advancing our understanding of long-term impacts of anthropogenic disturbance on ecosystem functioning.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Ecology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 30 May 2022