The central tenet of biodiversity-ecosystem function (BEF) theory, that species richness increases function, could motivate restoration practitioners to incorporate a greater number of species into their projects. But it is not yet clear how well BEF theory predicts outcomes of restoration, because it has been developed through tests involving short-run and tightly controlled (e.g., weeded) experiments. Thus, we resampled our 1997 BEF experiment in a restored salt marsh to test for long-term effects of species richness (plantings with 1, 3, and 6 species per 2 x 2 m plot), with multiple ecosystem functions as response variables. Over 11 years, 1- and 6-species assemblages converged on intermediate richness (mean = 3.9 species/ 0.25-m2 plot), and composition changed nonrandomly throughout the site. While three species became rare, the two most productive species became co-dominant. The two dominants controlled and increased shoot biomass, which appeared to decrease species richness. Diversity-function relationships became less positive over 11 years and differed significantly with (a) the species-richness metric (planted vs. measured), and (b) the indicator of function (shoot biomass, height, and canopy layering). The loss of positive relationships between species richness and function in our restored site began soon after we stopped weeding and continued with increasing dominance by productive species. Where species-rich plantings are unlikely to ensure long-term restoration of functions, as in our salt marsh, we recommend dual efforts to establish (1) dominant species that provide high levels of target functions, and (2) subordinate species, which might provide additional functions under current or future conditions.
James M. Doherty, John Callaway and Joy B. Zedler. Diversity-function relationships changed in a long-term restoration experiment. Ecological Applications. Vol. 21, No. 6 (September 2011), pp. 2143-2155.