The most unique feature of Earth is the existence of life, and the most extraordinary feature of life is its diversity. Approximately 9 million types of plants, animals, protists and fungi inhabit the Earth. So, too, do 7 billion people. Two decades ago, at the first Earth Summit, the vast majority of the world's nations declared that human actions were dismantling the Earth's ecosystems, eliminating genes, species and biological traits at an alarming rate. This observation led to the question of how such loss of biological diversity will alter the functioning of ecosystems and their ability to provide society with the goods and services needed to prosper.
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Acknowledgements This work was conceived as a part of the working group, Biodiversity and the Functioning of Ecosystems: Translating Model Experiments into Functional Reality, supported by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, a Center funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF Grant EF-0553768), the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the State of California. Additional funds were provided by NFS’ DIMENSIONS of Biodiversity program to BJC (DEB-104612), and by the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Research Training Network (BESTNet) (NSF Grant 0639252). The use of trade names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.