The Future of Complementarity: Disentangling Causes from Consequences

Kathryn E. Barry*, Liesje Mommer, Jasper van Ruijven, Christian Wirth, Alexandra J. Wright, Yongfei Bai, John Connolly, Gerlinde B. De Deyn, Hans de Kroon, Forest Isbell, Alexandru Milcu, Christiane Roscher, Michael Scherer-Lorenzen, Bernhard Schmid, Alexandra Weigelt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Evidence suggests that biodiversity supports ecosystem functioning. Yet, the mechanisms driving this relationship remain unclear. Complementarity is one common explanation for these positive biodiversity–ecosystem functioning relationships. Yet, complementarity is often indirectly quantified as overperformance in mixture relative to monoculture (e.g., ‘complementarity effect’). This overperformance is then attributed to the intuitive idea of complementarity or, more specifically, to species resource partitioning. Locally, however, several unassociated causes may drive this overperformance. Here, we differentiate complementarity into three types of species differences that may cause enhanced ecosystem functioning in more diverse ecosystems: (i) resource partitioning, (ii) abiotic facilitation, and (iii) biotic feedbacks. We argue that disentangling these three causes is crucial for predicting the response of ecosystems to future biodiversity loss.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-180
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


  • Abiotic facilitation
  • Biodiversity
  • Biotic feedbacks
  • Complementarity
  • Complementarity effect
  • Ecosystem functioning
  • Plant-soil feedback
  • Resource partitioning
  • Resource tracers
  • Stress amelioration

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    Barry, K. E., Mommer, L., van Ruijven, J., Wirth, C., Wright, A. J., Bai, Y., Connolly, J., De Deyn, G. B., de Kroon, H., Isbell, F., Milcu, A., Roscher, C., Scherer-Lorenzen, M., Schmid, B., & Weigelt, A. (2019). The Future of Complementarity: Disentangling Causes from Consequences. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 34(2), 167-180.