Aims Biodiversity–ecosystem function experiments can test for causal relationships between planting diversity and community productivity. Planting diversity is routinely introduced as a design element in created wetlands, yet substantive support for the finding that early diversity positively affects ecosystem functioning is lacking for wetlands. We conducted a 2-year diversity–productivity experiment using freshwater wetland mesocosms to investigate community biomass production as affected by planted macrophyte functional richness.
Methods A richness gradient of macrophytes in four emergent wetland plant functional groups was established in freshwater mesocosms for two consecutive years. Species-specific aboveground morphological traits of plant size were measured at peak growth in both years; rooting depth was measured for each species in the second year. Aboveground biomass (AGB) and belowground biomass (BGB) were harvested after peak growth in the second year; first year AGB was estimated from morphological traits in constructed regression equations. Net richness effects (i.e. both complementarity effects and selection effects) were calculated using an additive partitioning method.
Important findings Species richness had a positive effect on community AGB relative to monocultures in the first year. In the second year, mean AGB was significantly reduced by competition in the most species-rich mixtures and all mixtures underyielded relative to the average monoculture. Competition for soil resources was weaker belowground, whereby root distribution at depths>20cm was reduced at the highest richness levels but overall BGB production was not affected. Changes in species biomass were strongly reflected by variation in species morphological traits, and species above and belowground performances were highly correlated. The obligate annual (Eleocharis obtusa), a dominant competitor, significantly contributed to the depression of perennial species' growth in the second growing season. To foster primary productivity with macrophyte richness in early successional communities of created wetlands where ruderal strategies are favored and competition may be stronger than species complementarity, unsystematic planting designs such as clustering the same or similar species could provide protection for some individuals. Additionally, engineering design elements fostering spatial or temporal environmental variability (e.g. microtopography) in newly created wetlands helps diversify the responses of wetland macrophyte species to their environment and could allow for greater complementarity in biomass production.