Islands pp 221-226 | Cite as

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function: Using Natural Attributes of Islands

  • R. D. Bowden
Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 115)


Islands and island systems offer a number of gradients, attributes, and natural experiments that facilitate examination of relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem function. First, they are often simpler systems than continental areas, reducing the number of complicating variables. Numerous studies, for example, have shown that taxonomic diversity declines strongly with decreasing island size and increasing distance from continental areas (Ash 1992; MacArthur and Wilson 1967; Woodroffe 1987). Even though genetic diversity within species on islands is often high, the overall taxonomic diversity is usually low (Mueller-Dombois 1990). Second, a number of archipelagos contain islands that have similar geologic histories or features (e.g., the Bahamian islands) that reduce complexities in soil age and processes. This can greatly simplify studies of ecosystem processes where highly variable soil conditions make it difficult and sometimes impossible to understand ecosystem functions. Third, and importantly, islands offer a wide gradient of diversity, with natural variation in factors such as latitude, size, age, spatial arrangement, and pattern of disturbance. Many of these factors, notably size and distance from continents, strongly influence biodiversity. Use of these natural gradients and the resulting gradients in biodiversity offers the prospect of establishing natural experiments to examine relationships between biodiversity and functioning within ecosystems.


Ecosystem Function Taxonomic Diversity Natural Gradient Island System Isle Royale 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. D. Bowden
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental ScienceAllegheny CollegeMeadvilleUSA

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