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Open Access Research article

Role of functionally dominant species in varying environmental regimes: evidence for the performance-enhancing effect of biodiversity

Silke Langenheder13*, Mark T Bulling25, James I Prosser1 and Martin Solan24

Author affiliations

1 Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Cruickshank Building, St. Machar Drive, Aberdeen, AB24 UU3, UK

2 Oceanlab, University of Aberdeen, Main Street, Newburgh, Aberdeenshire, AB41 6AA, UK

3 Department of Ecology and Genetics/Limnology, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18D, Uppsala, 75236, Sweden

4 Present address: Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, University of Southampton, Waterfront Campus, European Way, Southampton, SO14 3ZH, UK

5 Present address: Biological Sciences, University of Derby, Keldleston Road, Derby, DE22 1GB, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Ecology 2012, 12:14  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-12-14

Published: 30 July 2012



Theory suggests that biodiversity can act as a buffer against disturbances and environmental variability via two major mechanisms: Firstly, a stabilising effect by decreasing the temporal variance in ecosystem functioning due to compensatory processes; and secondly, a performance enhancing effect by raising the level of community response through the selection of better performing species. Empirical evidence for the stabilizing effect of biodiversity is readily available, whereas experimental confirmation of the performance-enhancing effect of biodiversity is sparse.


Here, we test the effect of different environmental regimes (constant versus fluctuating temperature) on bacterial biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relations. We show that positive effects of species richness on ecosystem functioning are enhanced by stronger temperature fluctuations due to the increased performance of individual species.


Our results provide evidence for the performance enhancing effect and suggest that selection towards functionally dominant species is likely to benefit the maintenance of ecosystem functioning under more variable conditions.

Insurance effect; Buffering effect; Resistance; Resilience; Environmental variability