Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 651–664 | Cite as

The prominence of and biases in biodiversity and ecosystem functioning research

  • Adriano Caliman
  • Aliny F. Pires
  • Francisco A. Esteves
  • Reinaldo L. Bozelli
  • Vinicius F. Farjalla
Original Paper


The sub-discipline of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (BEF) has emerged as a central topic in contemporary ecological research. However, to date no study has evaluated the prominence and publication biases in BEF research. Herein we report the results of a careful quantitative assessment of BEF research published in five core general ecology journals from 1990 to 2007 to determine the position of BEF research within ecology, identify patterns of research effort within BEF research, and discuss their probable proximal and historical causes. The relative importance of BEF publications increased exponentially during the period analyzed and was significantly greater than the average growth of ecological literature, affirming the prominence of BEF as a current paradigm in ecology. However, BEF research exhibited a strong bias toward experimental studies on terrestrial plant communities, with significantly lower effort devoted to the functional aspects of biodiversity in aquatic systems, multiple trophic level systems, and animal or microbial communities. Such trends may be explained by a combination of methodological adequacy and historic epistemological differences in ecological thinking. We suggest that BEF researchers should direct more effort toward the study of aquatic systems and animal communities, emphasize long-term and trophically complex experiments, such as those with multi-trophic microbial communities, employ larger-scale field observational studies and increase the use of integrative and theoretical studies. Many technical and analytical methodologies that are already employed in ecological research, such as stable isotopes, paleobiology, remote sensing, and model selection criteria, can facilitate these aims. Overcoming the above-mentioned shortcomings of current BEF research will greatly improve our ability to predict how biodiversity loss will affect ecosystem processes and services in natural ecosystems.


Ecological paradigms Research bias Species loss Ecological experiments Publication patterns Scientific chauvinism Global extinction Species interactions 



We thank Michael J. Vanni, Luciana S. Carneiro, Marcus V. Vieira, Ricardo I. Rios and two anonymous referees for constructive comments that improved the final version of this manuscript. This work was supported by research productivity grants and scholarships provided by the Brazilian Council of Research (CNPq) and “Coordenadoria de Pessoal de Nivel Superior” (CAPES – Brazilian Ministry of Education), respectively. CAPES also provided open access to journals used in this bibliometric survey.


  1. Balvanera P, Pfisterer AB, Buchmann N et al (2006) Quantifying the evidence for biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning and services. Ecol Lett 9:1146–1156CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Barot S, Blouin M, Fontaine S et al (2007) A tale of four stories: soil ecology, theory, evolution and the publication system. Plos One 11:e1248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bengtsson J (1998) Which species? What kind of diversity? Which ecosystem function? Some problems in studies of relations between biodiversity and ecosystem function. Appl Soil Ecol 10:191–199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Benton TG, Solan M, Travis JMJ et al (2007) Microcosm experiments can inform global ecological problems. Trends Ecol Evol 22:516–521CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bohannan BJM, Hughes J (2003) New approaches to analyzing microbial biodiversity data. Curr Opin Microbiol 6:282–287CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bracken MES, Stachowicz JJ (2006) Seaweed diversity enhances nitrogen uptake via complementary use of nitrate and ammonium. Ecology 87:2397–2403CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Budilova EV, Drogalina JA, Teriokhin AT (1997) Principal trends in modern ecology and its mathematical tools: an analysis of publications. Scientometrics 39:147–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Caliman A, Leal JJF, Esteves FA, Carneiro LS, Bozelli RL, Farjalla VF (2007) Functional bioturbator diversity enhances benthic-pelagic processes and properties in experimental microcosms. J North Am Benthol Soc 26:450–459 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cardinale BJ, Srivastava DS, Duffy JE et al (2006) Effects of biodiversity on the functioning of trophic groups and ecosystems. Nature 443:989–992CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Cardinale BJ, Wrigh JP, Cadotte MW et al (2007) Impacts of plant diversity on biomass production increase through time because of species complementarity. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:18123–18128CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Carpenter SR, Cole JJ, Hodgson JR et al (2001) Trophic cascades, nutrients, and lake productivity: whole-lake experiments. Ecol Monogr 71:163–186Google Scholar
  12. Chambers JQ, Asner GP, Morton DC et al (2007) Regional ecosystem structure and function: ecological insights from remote sensing of tropical forests. Trends Ecol Evol 22:414–423CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Chapin FS, Walker BH, Hobbs RJ et al (1997) Biotic control over the functioning of ecosystems. Science 277:500–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chapin FS, Zavaleta ES, Eviner VT et al (2000) Consequences of changing biodiversity. Nature 405:234–242CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Cole JJ, Caraco NF (2001) Carbon in catchments: connecting terrestrial carbon losses with aquatic metabolism. Mar Fresh Resear 52:101–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Darwin C (1859) The origin of species by means of natural selection or the preservation of favored races in the struggle for life. The modern library, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. De Meester L, Declerck S, Stoks R et al (2005) Ponds and pools as model systems in conservation biology, ecology and evolutionary biology. Aquat Conserv 15:715–725CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dudgeon D, Arthington AH, Gessner MO et al (2006) Freshwater biodiversity: importance, threats, status and conservation challenges. Biol Rev 81:163–182CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Duffy JE (2002) Biodiversity and ecosystem function: the consumer connection. Oikos 99:201–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Duffy JE (2009) Why biodiversity is important to the functioning of real-world ecosystems. Front Ecol Environ. doi: 10.1890/070195
  21. Duffy JE, Cardinale BJ, France KE et al (2007) The functional role of biodiversity in ecosystems: incorporating trophic complexity. Ecol Lett 10:522–538CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Emmerson M, Huxham M (2002) How can marine ecology contribute to the biodiversity-ecosystems functioning debate? In: Loreau M, Naeem S, Inchausti P (eds) Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: synthesis and perspectives. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 139–146Google Scholar
  23. Emmerson MC, Solan M, Emes C et al (2001) Consistent patterns and the idiosyncratic effects of biodiversity in marine ecosystems. Nature 411:73–77CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Forbes S (1887) The lake as a microcosm. Bull Scient Assoc (Peoria, IL) 1887:77–87Google Scholar
  25. France KE, Duffy JE (2006) Diversity and dispersal interactively affect predictability of ecosystem function. Nature 441:1139–1143CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Gessner MO, Inchausti P, Persson L et al (2004) Biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning: insights from aquatic systems. Oikos 104:419–422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Giller PS, Hillebrand H, Berninger UG et al (2004) Biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning: emerging issues and their experimental test in aquatic environments. Oikos 104:423–436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Graham MH, Dayton PK (2002) On the evolution of ecological ideas: paradigms and scientific progress. Ecology 83:1481–1489Google Scholar
  29. Gurevitch J, Hedges LV (1999) Statistical issues in ecological meta-analyses. Ecology 80:1142–1149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hooper DU, Chapin FS, Ewel JJ et al (2005) Effects of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning: a consensus of current knowledge. Ecol Monogr 75:3–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Huston MA (1997) Hidden treatments in ecological experiments: re-evaluating the ecosystem function of biodiversity. Oecologia 110:449–460CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Huston MA, McBride AC (2002) Evaluating the relative strengths of biotic versus abiotic controls on ecosystem processes. In: Loreau M, Naeem S, Inchausti P (eds) Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: synthesis and perspectives. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 47–60Google Scholar
  33. Ives AR, Cardinale BJ (2004) Food-web interactions govern the resistance of communities after non-random extinctions. Nature 429:174–177CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Jackson JBC, Johnson KG (2001) Paleoecology—measuring past biodiversity. Science 293:2401CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Jessup CM, Kassen R, Forde SE et al (2004) Big questions, small worlds: microbial model systems in ecology. Trends Ecol Evol 19:189–197CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Johnson JB, Omland KS (2004) Model selection in ecology and evolution. Trends Ecol Evol 19:101–108CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Kahmen A, Renker C, Unsicker SB et al (2006) Niche complementarity for nitrogen: an explanation for the biodiversity and ecosystem functioning relationship? Ecology 87:1244–1255CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Kiessling W (2005) Long-term relationships between ecological stability and biodiversity in Phanerozoic reefs. Nature 433:410–413CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Kumari L (2006) Trends in synthetic organic chemistry research. Cross-country comparison of Activity Index. Scientometrics 67:467–476Google Scholar
  40. Lawton JH (1996) Patterns in ecology. Oikos 75:145–147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Layman CA, Post DM (2008) Can stable isotope ratios provide for community-wide measures of trophic structure? Reply. Ecology 89:2358–2359CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Leibold MA, Holyoak M, Mouquet N et al (2004) The metacommunity concept: a framework for multi-scale community ecology. Ecol Lett 7:601–613CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Likens GE, Bormann FH, Johnson NM et al (1970) Effects of forest cutting and herbicide treatment on nutrient budgets in Hubbard Brook watershed-ecosystem. Ecol Monogr 40:23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Loreau M, Naeem S, Inchausti P et al (2001) Ecology—biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: current knowledge and future challenges. Science 294:804–808CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Loreau M, Mouquet N, Holt RD (2003) Meta-ecosystems: a theoretical framework for a spatial ecosystem ecology. Ecol Lett 6:673–679CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. McIntyre PB, Jones LE, Flecker AS et al (2007) Fish extinctions alter nutrient recycling in tropical freshwaters. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:4461–4466CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Moustakas A, Karakassis I (2005) How diverse is aquatic biodiversity research? Aquat Ecol 39:367–375CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Naeem S (2002) Ecosystem consequences of biodiversity loss: the evolution of a paradigm. Ecology 83:1537–1552CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Naeem S (2006) Expanding scales in biodiversity-based research: challenges and solutions for marine systems. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 311:273–283CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Naeem S, Wright JP (2003) Disentangling biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning: deriving solutions to a seemingly insurmountable problem. Ecol Lett 6:567–579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Naeem S, Loreau M, Inchausti P (2002) Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: the emergence of a synthetic ecological framework. In: Loreau M, Naeem S, Inchausti P (eds) Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: synthesis and perspectives. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 3–11Google Scholar
  52. Nobis M, Wohlgemuth T (2004) Trend words in ecological core journals over the last 25 years (1978–2002). Oikos 106:411–421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Petchey OL, Gaston KJ (2007) Dendrograms and measuring functional diversity. Oikos 116:1422–1426CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Petchey OL, Downing AL, Mittelbach GG et al (2004) Species loss and the structure and functioning of multitrophic aquatic systems. Oikos 104:467–478CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Purvis A, Agapow PM, Gittleman JL et al (2000) Nonrandom extinction and the loss of evolutionary history. Science 288:328–330CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Raffaelli D (2006) Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: issues of scale and trophic complexity. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 311:285–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Raffaelli D, Van der Putten WH, Persson L (2002) Multi-trophic dynamics and ecosystem processes. In: Loreau M, Naeem S, Inchausti P et al (eds) Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: synthesis and perspectives. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 147–154Google Scholar
  58. Raffaelli D, Emmerson M, Solan M et al (2003) Biodiversity and ecosystem processes in shallow coastal waters: an experimental approach. J Sea Res 49:133–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Saikkonen K, Lehtonen P, Helander M et al (2006) Model systems in ecology: dissecting the endophyte-grass literature. Trends Plant Sci 11:428–433CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Sala OE, Chapin FS, Armesto JJ et al (2000) Biodiversity—global biodiversity scenarios for the year 2100. Science 287:1770–1774CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Schmid B, Hector A (2004) The value of biodiversity experiments. Basic Appl Ecol 5:535–542CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Schulze ED, Mooney HA (1994) Biodiversity and ecosystem function. Springer-Verlag, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  63. Solan M, Cardinale BJ, Downing AL et al (2004) Extinction and ecosystem function in the marine benthos. Science 306:1177–1180CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Srivastava DS, Vellend M (2005) Biodiversity-ecosystem function research: is it relevant to conservation? Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 36:267–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Srivastava DS, Kolasa J, Bengtsson J et al (2004) Are natural microcosms useful model systems for ecology? Trends Ecol Evol 19:379–384CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  66. Srivastava DS, Cardinale BJ, Downing JE et al (2009) Diversity has stronger top-down than bottom-effect effects on decomposition. Ecology 90:1073–1083CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Symstad AJ, Chapin FS, Wall DH et al (2003) Long-term and large-scale perspectives on the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Bioscience 53:89–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Tilman D (1999) The ecological consequences of changes in biodiversity: a search for general principles. Ecology 80:1455–1474Google Scholar
  69. Vitousek PM, Mooney HA, Lubchenco J et al (1997) Human domination of Earth’s ecosystems. Science 277:494–499CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Wardle DA (1999) Is “sampling effect” a problem for experiments investigating biodiversity-ecosystem function relationships? Oikos 87:403–407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Wardle DA, Zackrisson O (2005) Effects of species and functional group loss on island ecosystem properties. Nature 435:806–810CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  72. Wittebolle L, Marzorati M, Clement L et al (2009) Initial community evenness favours functionality under selective stress. Nature 458:623–626CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  73. Yachi S, Loreau M (1999) Biodiversity and ecosystem productivity in a fluctuating environment: the insurance hypothesis. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 96:1463–1468CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  74. Zavaleta ES, Hulvey KB (2004) Realistic species losses disproportionately reduce grassland resistance to biological invaders. Science 306:1175–1177CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adriano Caliman
    • 1
    • 3
  • Aliny F. Pires
    • 1
  • Francisco A. Esteves
    • 1
    • 2
  • Reinaldo L. Bozelli
    • 1
  • Vinicius F. Farjalla
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Departamento de Ecologia, Instituto de BiologiaUniversidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, CCS, Cidade UniversitáriaRio de JaneiroBrazil
  2. 2.Núcleo de Pesquisas em Ecologia e Desenvolvimento Sócio Ambiental de MacaéRodovia Amaral PeixotoMacaeBrazil
  3. 3.Departamento de Botânica, Ecologia e Zoologia, Centro de BiociênciasUniversidade Federal do Rio Grande do NorteNatalBrazil

Personalised recommendations