Population and community resilience in multitrophic communities

Christopher F. Steiner, Zachary T. Long, Jennifer A. Krumins, Peter J. Morin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Diversity-stability relationships have long been a topic of controversy in ecology, but one whose importance has been re-highlighted by increasing large-scale threats to global biodiversity. The ability of a community to recover from a perturbation (or resilience) is a common measure of stability that has received a large amount of theoretical attention. Yet, general expectations regarding diversity-resilience relations remain elusive. Moreover, the effects of productivity and its interaction with diversity on resilience are equally unclear. We examined the effects of species diversity, species composition, and productivity on population- and community-level resilience in experimental aquatic food webs composed of bacteria, algae, heterotrophic protozoa, and rotifers. Productivity manipulations were crossed with manipulations of the number of species and species compositions within trophic groups. Resilience was measured by perturbing communities with a nonselective, density-independent, mortality event and comparing responses over time between perturbed communities and controls. We found evidence that species diversity can enhance resilience at the community level (i.e., total community biomass), though this effect was more strongly expressed in low-productivity treatments. Diversity effects on resilience were driven by a sampling/selection effect, with resilient communities showing rapid response and dominance by a minority of species (primarily unicellular algae). In contrast, diversity had no effect on mean population-level resilience. Instead, the ability of a community's populations to recover from perturbations was dependent on species composition. We found no evidence of an effect of productivity, either positive or negative, on community- or population-level resilience. Our results indicate that the role of diversity as an insurer of stability may depend on the level of biological organization at which stability is measured, with effects emerging only when focusing on aggregate community properties.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)996-1007
Number of pages12
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2006


  • Biodiversity
  • Biomass
  • Composition
  • Ecosystem functioning
  • Microcosm
  • Productivity
  • Protists
  • Resilience
  • Stability


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