Changes in land-use, habitat fragmentation, nutrient enrichment and environmental stress often lead to reduced plant diversity in ecosystems. However, it remains controversial whether these reductions in diversity will affect energy flow and nutrient cycling. Diversity has two components: species richness, or the number of plant species in a given area, and species evenness, or how well distributed abundance or biomass is among species within a community. We experimentally varied species evenness and the identity of the dominant plant species in an old field of Quebec to test if plant productivity would increase with increasing levels of evenness, and if relationships would be invariant with respect to species identity.

Total and belowground biomass increased linearly with increasing levels of evenness after one growing season. These relationships did not depend on the identity of the dominant species. Relationships between aboveground biomass and evenness varied and depended on the identity of the dominant. Our results are largely consistent with the idea that human-influenced reductions in plant diversity, in this case evenness, will lead to indirect reductions in total primary productivity. Furthermore, because the evenness treatments were not confounded with species identity, it suggests that diversity has an effect on plant productivity above and beyond the sampling effect (having a higher probability of species with higher growth rates in diverse communities) seen in studies that varied species richness.


Wilsey, B.J. and C. Potvin. 2000. Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: the importance of species evenness in an old field. Ecology 81(4):887-892.