Research highlight

Different plants, working together

Nature Plants

March 31, 2015

Plant species richness promotes grassland fodder yields, whereas the genetic diversity of individual species promotes the stability of those yields, reports a paper published this week in Nature Plants.

In many agricultural systems, plant diversity is minimized and inputs are maximized in order to optimize yields. However, limiting diversity can lead to a loss of productivity in the face of unexpected environmental change.

Ivan Prieto and colleagues grew five agricultural grassland species, characterized by different levels of genetic diversity, together or in isolation, and monitored fodder production. The authors found that multi-species plots were more productive than monocultures, particularly when subject to a period of drought. Harvests were more consistent, however, in plots with a greater number of genotypes per grassland species.

In an accompanying News & Views, Forest Isbell writes, “the diversification of agricultural systems could well become an increasingly profitable strategy for enhancing agricultural productivity as the climate changes and extreme events become increasingly common.”

doi: 10.1038/nplants.2015.33

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