Researchers say plant communities -- threatened by development, invasive species, climate change and other factors -- provide humans with food, help purify water supplies, generate oxygen, and supply raw materials for building, clothing, paper and other products.
The researchers analyzed the results of 574 field and laboratory studies conducted on five continents during the last 20 years that measured the changes in productivity resulting from loss of plants species.
"The idea that declining diversity compromises the functioning of ecosystems was controversial for many years," Emmett Duffy of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science said. "This paper should be the final nail in the coffin of that controversy.
"It's the most rigorous and comprehensive analysis yet, and it clearly shows that extinction of plant species compromises the productivity that supports Earth's ecosystems."
The researchers' findings, reported in the American Journal of Botany, showed consistency among plant communities both on land and in fresh- and saltwater, suggesting plant biodiversity is of fundamental importance to the functioning of the Earth's entire biosphere, an institute release said Monday.