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Islands in the north of Sweden © N. Fanin

A new experimental facility to study the effects of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning

For more than 20 years, 30 Swedish islands have been the subject of an experiment that is unique in the world. An INRA scientist and his Swedish and Australian colleagues have been surveying these islands in order to analyse the impact of biodiversity loss on the functioning of their ecosystems (after removing different species and functional groups of plants). Thanks to numerous indicators measured on the plants and soil, the team has highlighted the importance of considering all ecosystem services and the need to preserve biodiversity in highly contrasting ecosystems. Their work was published in Nature Ecology & Evolution on 18 December 2017.

Updated on 01/11/2018
Published on 12/18/2017

. © INRA, N. Fanin
© INRA, N. Fanin
In northern Sweden, an archipelago of 30 wooded islands has been the subject of an experiment that is unique in the world. Wildfires that destroyed the vegetation affected these islands at different times, so each is an independent ecosystem, and collectively they represent a “chronosequence” of northern islands lasting more than 5000 years. During the past 20 years or more, different species (whortleberry, bilberry, etc.) and functional plant groups (mosses, trees, shrubs, etc.) have been regularly removed in order to simulate biodiversity loss on each of the islands. These long-term experiments to manipulate plant diversity were designed to better understand how the environmental context could influence the effects of biodiversity loss on ecosystem processes.

For more than two years, the scientists collected and analysed several thousand soil cores and plant samples from each of the islands in order to determine an ecosystem multifunctionality index. This value groups a series of 15 measurements that are representative of ecosystem functioning (ranging from plant productivity to the completion of biogeochemical cycles or the recycling of nutrients).

On each island, the scientists compared the impact of biodiversity loss on each of these functions considered individually. And indeed, the effects observed depended on their environmental context. The same values for each of the specific functions were not obtained because of differences in productivity, soil fertility or the composition of biological communities between the “young” and “ancient” islands. However, more surprisingly, when the multifunctionality index was considered (i.e. the 15 functions applied collectively), the negative effect of biodiversity loss on ecosystem functioning was the same everywhere and at all trophic levels (plants and fungi), thus underlining the importance of preserving biodiversity in a multitude of highly contrasting ecosystems.

This work has thus provided a clearer understanding of how biodiversity loss can affect the functioning of ecosystem services which, in a context of global change, has become an increasingly important need.

An example of a "plot" from which shrubs have been removed. © INRA, N. Fanin
An example of a "plot" from which shrubs have been removed © INRA, N. Fanin

Scientific contact(s):

  • Nicolas Fanin (33 (0)5 57 12 25 16 ) Soil Plant Atmosphere Interaction Unit (INRA, Bordeaux Sciences Agro)
Press Relations:
INRA News Office (33 (0)1 42 75 91 86)
Associated Division(s):
Forest, Grassland and Freshwater Ecology
Associated Centre(s):


Consistent effects of biodiversity loss on multifunctionality across contrasting ecosystems. Nicolas Fanin, Michael J. Gundale, Mark Farrell, Marcel Ciobanu, Jeff A. Baldock, Marie-Charlotte Nilsson, Paul Kardol and David A. Wardle. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 18 December 2017.