Biodiversity and Ecosystem Multi-Functionality: Observed Relationships in Smallholder Fallows in Western Kenya

Sircely, Jason; Naeem, Shahid

Recent studies indicate that species richness can enhance the ability of plant assemblages to support multiple ecosystem functions. To understand how and when ecosystem services depend on biodiversity, it is valuable to expand beyond experimental grasslands. We examined whether plant diversity improves the capacity of agroecosystems to sustain multiple ecosystem services—production of wood and forage, and two elements of soil formation—in two types of smallholder fallows in western Kenya. In 18 grazed and 21 improved fallows, we estimated biomass and quantified soil organic carbon, soil base cations, sand content, and soil infiltration capacity. For four ecosystem functions (wood biomass, forage biomass, soil base cations, steady infiltration rates) linked to the focal ecosystem services, we quantified ecosystem service multi-functionality as (1) the proportion of functions above half-maximum, and (2) mean percentage excess above mean function values, and assessed whether plant diversity or environmental favorability better predicted multi-functionality. In grazed fallows, positive effects of plant diversity best explained the proportion above half-maximum and mean percentage excess, the former also declining with grazing intensity. In improved fallows, the proportion above half-maximum was not associated with soil carbon or plant diversity, while soil carbon predicted mean percentage excess better than diversity. Grazed fallows yielded stronger evidence for diversity effects on multi-functionality, while environmental conditions appeared more influential in improved fallows. The contrast in diversity-multi-functionality relationships among fallow types appears related to differences in management and associated factors including disturbance and species composition. Complementary effects of species with contrasting functional traits on different functions and multi-functional species may have contributed to diversity effects in grazed fallows. Biodiversity and environmental favorability may enhance the capacity of smallholder fallows to simultaneously provide multiple ecosystem services, yet their effects are likely to vary with fallow management.

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Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology
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March 24, 2015