Benefits of increasing plant diversity in sustainable agroecosystems

Forest Isbell, Paul R. Adler, Nico Eisenhauer, Dario Fornara, Kaitlin Kimmel, Claire Kremen, Deborah K. Letourneau, Matt Liebman, H. Wayne Polley, Sandra Quijas, Michael Scherer-Lorenzen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


Recent studies have revealed many potential benefits of increasing plant diversity in natural ecosystems, as well as in agroecosystems and production forests. Plant diversity potentially provides a partial to complete substitute for many costly agricultural inputs, such as fertilizers, pesticides, imported pollinators and irrigation. Diversification strategies include enhancing crop genetic diversity, mixed plantings, rotating crops, agroforestry and diversifying landscapes surrounding croplands. Here we briefly review studies considering how increasing plant diversity influences the production of crops, forage, and wood, yield stability, and several regulating and supporting agroecosystem services. We also discuss challenges and recommendations for diversifying agroecosystems. There is consistently strong evidence that strategically increasing plant diversity increases crop and forage yield, wood production, yield stability, pollinators, weed suppression and pest suppression, whereas effects of diversification on soil nutrients and carbon remain poorly understood. Synthesis. The benefits of diversifying agroecosystems are expected to be greatest where the aims are to sustainably intensify production while reducing conventional inputs or to optimize both yields and ecosystem services. Over the next few decades, as monoculture yields continue to decelerate or decline for many crops, and as demand for ecosystem services continues to rise, diversification could become an essential tool for sustaining production and ecosystem services in croplands, rangelands and production forests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)871-879
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Cedar Creek biodiversity experiment was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF-LTER Award 1234162) and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Jena Experiment was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation; FOR 456 and FOR 1451). Further support came from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, funded by the German Research Foundation (FZT 118). M.S.-L. received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007?2013) under grant agreement no. 265171, project FunDivEUROPE.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Authors. Journal of Ecology © 2017 British Ecological Society

Copyright 2018 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • agroecology
  • biodiversity
  • ecosystem functioning
  • ecosystem services
  • ecosystem stability
  • productivity
  • yield

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