Wetlands provide many important ecosystem services to human society, which may depend on how plant diversity influences biomass production and nutrient retention. Vascular aquatic plant diversity may not necessarily enhance wetland ecosystem functioning, however, because competition among these plant species can be strong, often resulting in the local dominance of a single species. Here we have manipulated the species richness of rooted, submerged aquatic plant (macrophyte) communities in experimental wetland mesocosms. We found higher algal and total plant (algal plus macrophyte) biomass, as well as lower loss of total phosphorus, in mesocosms with a greater richness of macrophyte species. Greater plant biomass resulted from a sampling effect; that is, the increased chance in species mixtures that algal production would be facilitated by the presence of a less competitive species - in this case, crisped pondweed. Lower losses of total phosphorus resulted from the greater chance in species mixtures of a high algal biomass and the presence of sago pondweed, which physically filter particulate phosphorus from the water. These indirect and direct effects of macrophyte species richness on algal production, total plant biomass and phosphorus loss suggest that management practices that maintain macrophyte diversity may enhance the functioning and associated services of wetland ecosystems.
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