Meta-analyses and mega-mistakes: calling time on meta-analysis of the species richness-productivity relationship

Ecology. 2010 Sep;91(9):2522-33. doi: 10.1890/08-0968.1.


The form of the species richness-productivity relationship (SRPR) is both theoretically important and contentious. In an effort to distill general patterns, ecologists have undertaken meta-analyses, within which each SRPR data set is first classified into one of five alternative forms: positive, humped (unimodal), negative, U-shaped (unimodal), and no relationship. Herein, I first provide a critique of this approach, based on 68 plant data sets/ studies used in three meta-analyses published in Ecology. The meta-analyses are shown to have resulted in highly divergent outcomes, inconsistent and often highly inappropriate classification of data sets, and the introduction and multiplication of errors from one meta-analysis to the next. I therefore call on the ecological community at large to adopt a far more rigorous and critical attitude to the use of meta-analysis. Second, I develop the argument that the literature on the SRPR continues to be bedeviled by a common failing to appreciate the fundamental importance of the scale of analysis, beginning with the confusion evident between concepts of grain, focus, and extent. I postulate that variation in the form of the SRPR at fine scales of analysis owes much to artifacts of the sampling regime adopted. An improved understanding may emerge from combining sampling theory with an understanding of the factors controlling the form of species abundance distributions and species accumulation curves.

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity*
  • Biomass
  • Ecology / methods
  • Ecology / standards
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Plants / classification
  • Population Dynamics
  • Research Design
  • Species Specificity