What Does Productivity Really Mean? Towards an Integrative Paradigm in the Search for Biodiversity-Productivity Relationships

How species diversity relates to productivity remains a major debate. To date, however, the underlying mechanisms that regulate the ecological processes involved are still poorly understood. Three major issues persist in early efforts at resolution. First, in the context that productivity drives species diversity, how the pathways operate is poorly-explained. Second, productivity  per se varies with community or ecosystem maturity. If diversity indeed drives productivity, the criterion of choosing appropriate measures for productivity is not available. Third, spatial scaling suggests that sampling based on small-plots may not be suitable for formulating species richness-productivity relationships (SRPRs). Thus, the long-standing assumption simply linking diversity with productivity and pursuing a generalizing pattern may not be robust. We argue that productivity, though defined as ‘the rate of biomass production’, has been measured in two ways environmental surrogates and biomass production leading to misinterpretations and difficulty in the pursuit of generalizable SRPRs. To tackle these issues, we developed an integrative theoretical paradigm encompassing richer biological and physical contexts and clearly reconciling the major processes of the systems, using proper productivity measures and sampling units. We conclude that loose interpretation and confounding measures of productivity may be the real root of current SRPR inconsistencies and debate.

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