Activities per year
Understanding the consequences of ongoing biodiversity changes for ecosystems is a pressing challenge. Controlled biodiversity-ecosystem function experiments with random biodiversity loss scenarios have demonstrated that more diverse communities usually provide higher levels of ecosystem functioning. However, it is not clear if these results predict the ecosystem consequences of environmental changes that cause non-random alterations in biodiversity and community composition. We synthesized 69 independent studies reporting 660 observations of the impacts of two pervasive drivers of global change (chemical stressors and nutrient enrichment) on animal and microbial decomposer diversity and litter decomposition. Using meta-analysis and structural equation modelling, we show that declines in decomposer diversity and abundance explain reduced litter decomposition in response to stressors but not to nutrients. While chemical stressors generally reduced biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, detrimental effects of nutrients occurred only at high levels of nutrient inputs. Thus, more intense environmental change does not always result in stronger responses, illustrating the complexity of ecosystem consequences of biodiversity change. Overall, these findings provide strong evidence that the consequences of observed biodiversity change for ecosystems depend on the kind of environmental change, and are especially significant when human activities decrease biodiversity.