Using root traits to understand temporal changes in biodiversity effects in grassland mixtures

Lisette M. Bakker, Liesje Mommer, Jasper van Ruijven*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Biodiversity–ecosystem functioning (BEF) studies typically show that species richness enhances community biomass, but the underlying mechanisms remain debated. Here, we combine metrics from BEF research that distinguish the contribution of dominant species (selection effects, SE) from those due to positive interactions such as resource partitioning (complementarity effects, CE) with a functional trait approach in an attempt to reveal the functional characteristics of species that drive community biomass in species mixtures. In a biodiversity experiment with 16 plant species in monocultures, 4-species and 16-species mixtures, we used aboveground biomass to determine the relative contributions of CE and SE to biomass production in mixtures in the second, dry year of the experiment. We also measured root traits (specific root length, root length density, root tissue density and the deep root fraction) of each species in monocultures and linked the calculated community weighted mean (CWM) trait values and trait diversity of mixtures to CE and SE. In the second year of the experiment, community biomass, CE and SE increased compared to the first year. The contribution of SE to this positive effect was greater than that of CE. The increased contribution of SE was associated with root traits: SE increased most in communities with high abundance of species with deep, thick and dense roots. In contrast, changes in CE were not related to trait diversity or CWM trait values. Together, these results suggest that increased positive effects of species richness on community biomass in a dry year were mainly driven by increased dominance of deep-rooting species, supporting the insurance hypothesis of biodiversity. Positive CE indicates that other positive interactions did occur, but we could not find evidence that belowground resource partitioning or facilitation via root trait diversity was important for community productivity in our biodiversity experiment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)208-220
Issue number2
Early online date24 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


  • biodiversity effects
  • ecosystem functioning
  • functional trait approach


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