Spatial scale dictates the productivity-biodiversity relationship

Nature. 2002 Mar 28;416(6879):427-30. doi: 10.1038/416427a.


The diversity of life is heterogeneously distributed across the Earth. A primary cause for this pattern is the heterogeneity in the amount of energy, or primary productivity (the rate of carbon fixed through photosynthesis), available to the biota in a given location. But the shape of the relationship between productivity and species diversity is highly variable. In many cases, the relationship is 'hump-shaped', where diversity peaks at intermediate productivity. In other cases, diversity increases linearly with productivity. A possible reason for this discrepancy is that data are often collected at different spatial scales. If the mechanisms that determine species diversity vary with spatial scale, then so would the shape of the productivity-diversity relationship. Here, we present evidence for scale-dependent productivity-diversity patterns in ponds. When the data were viewed at a local scale (among ponds), the relationship was hump-shaped, whereas when the same data were viewed at a regional scale (among watersheds), the relationship was positively linear. This dependence on scale results because dissimilarity in local species composition within regions increased with productivity.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ecosystem*
  • Fresh Water
  • Plants