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Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning

Biodiversity is the source of ecosystem processes and functioning that are providers of ecosystem services. Understanding the role of biodiversity in sustaining ecosystem functioning is one step towards understanding regulation mechanisms of ecosystem services. Recently, ecoSERVICES addressed this topic by working on:

From 2005 to 2011, ecoSERVICES advanced the understanding of the role of biodiversity in sustaining ecosystem functioning with special focus on:


Biodiversity planetary boundaries

The concept of planetary boundaries was introduced by Rockström et al. (2009. Nature 461:472-475) "for estimating a safe operating space for humanity with respect to the functioning of the Earth System." (sensu Rockström et al. [2009. Nature 461:472-475]) They identified nine key Earth System processes that collectively define this operating space and are proxies of global environmental change, and quantified the respective boundary level for seven of them. A boundary level is a level that once transgressed places humanity at high risks of losing the planetary state desirable for the well-being of humanity.

One of the Earth System processes identified was the rate of loss of biodiversity whose boundary was measured against the rate of species extinction. This measure is limited in terms of capturing the multiple roles that biodiversity plays in supporting ecosystem functioning and resilience, and the many ecosystem services humanity is reliant upon. Including ecosystem services in the development of biodiversity planetary boundaries involves not only the role of biodiversity in supporting provisioning and regulating services, but also the cultural values and services associated with biodiversity which are many-faceted and range from spiritual and recreational benefits, but also include societal existence values for biodiversity. Thus, developing the planetary boundary framework on a single proxy of biodiversity fails to capture the multifaceted nature of biodiversity and the multiple roles it plays in supporting human well-being. Instead, it is desirable to identify other possible measures and thresholds and investigate a set of boundaries.



Belinda Reyers, CSIR, South Africa, and Georgina Mace, University College London, UK



Workshop: Exploring the biodiversity planetary boundary: Concepts, methods and analysis, 30-31 Mar 2012, London, UK

The aim of this workshop was to explore the concept of the biodiversity planetary boundary (sensu Rockström et al. [2009. Nature 461:472-475]), and to contribute to the concepts, methods and measures for developing regional and global boundaries. The workshop brought together experts in the areas of biodiversity measurement and biodiversity loss, and planetary boundaries, in order to work towards a set of biodiversity boundaries that can contribute to identifying a “safe operating space for humanity”.



Evidence of the relationships between biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services

Seven years after the publication of the key synthesis book Biodiversity and ecosystem Functioning (Loreau et al. 2002) by DIVERSITAS and IGBP, ecoSERVICES, in collaboration with BioMERGE, organised a series of workshops to review the recent research advancements in the field, and published a synthesis and prospective book: Biodiversity, Ecosystem Functioning, and Human Wellbeing: An Ecological and Economic Perspective (Naeem et al. 2009).



Andy Hector, University of Zurich, Switzerland



  • Balvanera P, Pfisterer AB, Buchmann N, He JS, Nakashizuka T, Raffaelli D and Schmid B. 2006. Quantifying the evidence for biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning and services. Ecology Letters. 9(10):1146-1156
  • Cardinale BJ, Srivastava DS, Duffy JE, Wright JP, Downing AL, Sankaran M and Jouseau C. 2006. Effects of biodiversity on the functioning of trophic groups and ecosystems. Nature. 443(7114):989-992
  • Loreau M, Naeem S and Inchausti P. 2002. Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning: Synthesis and Perspectives. Oxford University Press
  • Naeem S, Bunker DE, Hector A, Loreau M and Perrings C. 2009. Biodiversity, Ecosystem Functioning, and Human Wellbeing. An Ecological and Economic Perspective. Oxford University Press



Workshop: The Consequences of Changing Biodiversity – Solutions and Scenarios, 30 Nov-5 Dec 2006, Monte Verità, Switzerland

Organisers: BioMERGE and ecoSERVICES

The former Adaptive Synthesis Workshops collectively identified tools for addressing the role of extrinsic drivers, intrinsic drivers, regional distributions of taxonomic and functional richness, and develop scenarios for changes in ecosystem functioning under different extinction regimes. With this 4th Adaptive Synthesis Workshop, the aim was to use the tools previously identified to prepare a new synthesis of research in the biodiversity and ecosystem functioning area. The outcomes were the publications cited above.


Workshop: Next Generation of Biodiversity Research, 4-6 Sep 2005, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Organiser: ecoSERVICES

The workshop reviewed the field of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning and discussed the next generation of research challenges. Research on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning has progressed to a stage where experiment and theory provide us with a robust basis for the subject area. The workshop identified the need for new research undertaken at relevant field scales and on ecosystems of real-world interest to move beyond the analysis of simple systems. Such research would help gain a fuller understanding on the impact of biodiversity changes on ecosystem functioning, which is key to link biodiversity losses to biogeochemistry and ecosystem services.


Workshop: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning – Cross-Biome Syntheses, 1-4 Sep 2005, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Organisers: BioMERGE, ecoSERVICES

Research on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning mostly focused on grassland ecosystems, with some attention to freshwater microbial and invertebrate communities under laboratory conditions. To gain a more holistic understanding of the links between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, cross-biome syntheses that expand to other terrestrial systems, such as forests, are required. This workshop was set in Southeast Asia to make a cross-biome synthesis since Borneo provides a rich, tropical biological diversity at multiple scales. Participants adapted learning from other terrestrial biomes and addressed issues surrounding the roles of extrinsic and intrinsic drivers of biodiversity changes and the methods of integrating taxonomic and functional diversity be addressed first.

The workshop led to the publication of two meta-analyses on the linkages between biodiversity and ecosystem services (i.e. Balvanera et al. [2006] and Cardinale et al. [2006]).



Biodiversity and carbon sequestration

There is a great deal of interest in the value of forests as carbon sinks and in reforestation schemes aimed at carbon sequestration, especially in the context of the Kyoto Protocol and related international conventions. Understanding the trade-offs between maximising carbon storage and maximising or maintaining species diversity are important for making forest management choices that are conservation-friendly. The main goal of this activity was to increase our knowledge on the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning of forests.



Andy Hector, University of Zurich, Switzerland



Workshop: Biodiversity and carbon sequestration, 7-10 Sep 2005, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Organiser: ecoSERVICES

Considerations of linkages between biodiversity and carbon storage have been controversial but are key to biodiversity management. For example, can the diversity of species used in carbon offset forestry schemes be increased to raise the biodiversity value without negatively affecting C capture? In 2005, C sequestration schemes had only begun to incorporate biodiversity considerations and to ask this type of questions. The workshop aimed at reviewing the existing evidence, inspiring future research, and linking academic research with end-users. Participants explored the relationship between biodiversity and C storage in forests and plantation forests. The workshop also initiated the development of a network of scientists collecting data on biodiversity and C sequestration in natural systems, and started to engage them in discussions with policy-makers on the implications of this new research. Some of the discussions addressed issues pertaining to the economics of biodiversity.



Advancing and integrating trait-based evolutionary and ecological research

Traits are biological properties of species that influence individual fitness and govern how species interact with their biotic and abiotic environment. Traits are used across a broad spectrum of disciplines, including niche theory, community assembly, and metabolic ecological theory, species influences over ecosystem processes, natural selection and speciation, and predicting species extinction risk or invasibility. While disciplines have developed their own operational definitions, protocols, and databases, there is little coordination across them. ecoSERVICES advanced the coordination and integration among disciplines through its work in TraitNet. TraitNet also collaborated with TRY, a project of bioDISCOVERY, that aims at providing a global archive of plant functional traits.


TraitNet: Advancing and integrating trait-based evolutionary and ecological research (2007-2012)

TraitNet was a NSF-funded research coordination network established to coordinate, advance and integrate trait-based ecological and evolutionary research. TraitNet's five primary goals were to:

  • Identify core hypotheses in trait-based research
  • Identify critical data gaps
  • Coordinate the standardisation of collection and curation of trait data
  • Assemble a database to address core hypotheses
  • Facilitate the development of cross-disciplinary computational tools for merging, disseminating, and sharing trait data.

TraitNet established an international research network, ran a series of workshops and training seminars at annual scientific meetings, and published in peer-reviewed journals to meet its goals.

TraitNet coordinated an array of ecological and evolutionary disciplines to facilitate the integration of trait-based ecological and evolutionary research. Its main achievement was developing a Trait Ontology for Plants (TOPLA) that describes plant functional traits for ecologists and is accessible via a portal. TOPLA enables a user to search for traits via hierarchically organised plant parts (e.g. all ‘leaf’ traits), or characteristics (e.g. all chemical composition characteristics), or an intersection of entity and characteristics (e.g. leaf percent nitrogen). TOPLA was a collaborative enterprise between TraitNet, the CNRS-CEFE (France), and NCEAS (USA).


TraitNet coordinator

Shahid Naeem, Columbia University, USA



Biodiversity and invasion

Globalisation of trade, travel, and transport, is greatly increasing the number and diversity of harmful organisms being moved around the world, as well as the rate at which they are moving. At the same time, human-driven changes in land use and climate are rendering some habitats more susceptible to invasion by non-native species. The spread of some non-native species has already considerably altered many natural ecosystems around the world. Continued biological invasions threaten both the natural biological richness of the earth and human well-being.


Workshops and conferences

Symposium: Globalisation and invasive species: national responses, international options, DIVERSITAS OSC2, 13-16 Oct 2009, Cape Town, South Africa

Chaired by Charles Perrings and Dave Richardson

This symposium addressed issues related to the economic implication of globalisation and the dispersion of species, the efficient management of trade-related invasive species risk and phytosanitary controls, the use of invasive species to enhance local livelihoods, the spread of invasive species in protected areas, and the national responses to meet the CBD 2010 Biodiversity Target in regards to alien species invasion.


International Conference on Plant Invasives in the Tropics: Ecology, Management and Livelihoods, 5-6 Jan, 2009, Bangalore, India

ecoSERVICES supported this conference that addressed both the damage done by invasive plants in the tropics, and the scope for adaptation to invasive species where control costs are prohibitive. The conference brought researchers, practitioners and managers together to share and discuss the latest developments in the science, management, policy and utilisation of invasive plants.


Workshop: Colonisation vs. invasion: Do the same traits matter? Towards a joint perspective in research on range expansion of native and biological invasion of non-indigenous plants, 25 Feb-2 Mar 2007, Monte Verità, Ascona, Switzerland

Organisers: ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich

This workshop aimed at working at the interface of native-species range expansion and non-indigenous species invasion. Scientists from these different, but closely linked ecological fields were brought together to start an intensified research effort on possible climate warming effects on ecosystems and on mechanisms leading to biological invasion of non-indigenous species. Collaboration in research on biological invasion, the impact of biodiversity, invasion resistance and range-shifts of native species due to climate-mediated habitat change could result in a deeper understanding of traits that enable both, native and invasive species to expand their ranges under novel environmental conditions.

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