Relationships between biodiversity and multiple ecosystem functions (that is, ecosystem multifunctionality) are context-dependent. Both plant and soil microbial diversity have been reported to regulate ecosystem multifunctionality, but how their relative importance varies along environmental gradients remains poorly understood. Here, we relate plant and microbial diversity to soil multifunctionality across 130 dryland sites along a 4,000 km aridity gradient in northern China. Our results show a strong positive association between plant species richness and soil multifunctionality in less arid regions, whereas microbial diversity, in particular of fungi, is positively associated with multifunctionality in more arid regions. This shift in the relationships between plant or microbial diversity and soil multifunctionality occur at an aridity level of ∼0.8, the boundary between semiarid and arid climates, which is predicted to advance geographically ∼28% by the end of the current century. Our study highlights that biodiversity loss of plants and soil microorganisms may have especially strong consequences under low and high aridity conditions, respectively, which calls for climate-specific biodiversity conservation strategies to mitigate the effects of aridification.


Biological Sciences


This research was supported by the National Scientific and Technological Program on Basic Resources Investigation (no. 2019FY102002), National Natural Science Foundation of China (nos. 31770430 and 31700463), National Youth Top-notch Talent Support Program to J.D., China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (no. 2016M602890), Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (no. lzujbky-2018-it05), and the Innovation Base Project of Gansu Province (no. 20190323). R.D.B. was supported by BBSRC GCRF grant BB/P022987/1 “Restoring soil function and resilience to degraded grasslands” and B.S. was supported by the University of Zurich Research Priority Program “Global Change and Biodiversity”.

Keywords and Phrases

Biodiversity; Climate-change ecology; Microbial ecology; Molecular ecology; Plant ecology

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Article - Journal

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Publication Date

09 Sep 2021

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