Biodiversity and tallgrass prairie decomposition: The relative importance of species identity, evenness, richness, and micro-topography

Timothy L. Dickson, Brian J. Wilsey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Biodiversity has been declining in many areas, and there is great interest in determining whether this decline affects ecosystem functioning. Most biodiversity-ecosystem functioning studies have focused on the effects of species richness on net primary productivity. However, biodiversity encompasses both species richness and evenness, ecosystem functioning includes other important processes such as decomposition, and the effects of richness on ecosystem functioning may change at different levels of evenness. Here, we present two experiments on the effects of litter species evenness and richness on litter decomposition. In the first experiment, we varied the species evenness (three levels), identity of the dominant species (three species), and micro-topographic position (low points [gilgais] or high points between gilgais) of litter in three-species mixtures in a prairie in Texas, USA. In a second experiment, we varied the species evenness (three levels), richness (one, two, or four species per bag), and composition (random draws) of litter in a prairie in Iowa, USA. Greater species evenness significantly increased decomposition, but this effect was dependent on the environmental context. Higher evenness increased decomposition rates only under conditions of higher water availability (in gilgais in the first experiment) or during the earliest stages of decomposition (second experiment). Species richness had no significant effect on decomposition, nor did it interact with evenness. Micro-topographic position and species identity and composition had larger effects on decomposition than species evenness. These results suggest that the effects of litter species diversity on decomposition are more likely to be manifested through the evenness component of diversity than the richness component, and that diversity effects are likely to be environmentally context dependent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)639-649
Number of pages11
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Ecosystem functioning
  • Grassland
  • Litter bag
  • Litter quality
  • Moisture
  • Time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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