David Tilman headshot
Phone Numbers
Office Address

1987 Upper Buford Circle
St. Paul, MN 55108
United States

G. David


Distinguished McKnight University Professor; Regents Professor
Ecology, Evolution and Behavior

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Research statement

I am intrigued by the causes of broad, general patterns in the biological diversity, structure and dynamics of ecosystems, in the benefits that society receives from natural and managed ecosystems, and in ways to assure environmental and social sustainability in the face of global increases in human consumption and population. I recently have focused on a related issue - the effects of biodiversity on the stability and functioning of ecosystems, which is scientifically intriguing and of great importance to society. Finally, I am interested in the impacts of human domination of global ecosystems, especially in the impacts of nitrogen deposition, habitat destruction/fragmentation, and invasive exotic species. I study mechanisms of resource competition among terrestrial plants, especially in the grasslands of Minnesota's Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. This work has focused on causes of succession and controls of both diversity and species composition. My approach has been to combine well-replicated field experiments with mathematical theory. Some of the questions we are currently exploring in field experiments are (1) the effects of plant diversity on ecosystem productivity, nutrient retention, and stability; (2) the effects of community diversity on invasibility; (3) effects of diversity on disease dynamics and herbivory, and the feedback effects of these on stability and productivity; (4) effects of nitrogen deposition on diversity, stability and composition of grassland ecosystems; (5) the interactive effects of carbon dioxide, nitrogen deposition and plant diversity on primary productivity and its stability; (6) effects of climate change on ecosystem composition, diversity and functioning; and (7) the role of recruitment limitation in structuring plant communities. These collaborative projects take place at Cedar Creek and are supported by the NSF Long-Term Ecological Research Program or the Bush Foundation.

Selected publications

Fargione, J., J. Hill, D. Tilman, S. Polasky and P. Hawthorne. 2008. Land clearing and the biofuel carbon debt. Science 319: 1235-1238.

Clark, C.M. and D. Tilman. 2008. Loss of plant species after chronic low-level nitrogen deposition to prairie grasslands. nature 451:712-715.

Tilman, D., J. Hill and C. Lehman. 2006. Carbon-negative biofuels from low-input high-diversity grassland biomass. Science 314:1598-1600.

Tilman, D., P.B. Reich and J.M.H. Knops. 2006. Biodiversity and ecosystem stability in a decade-long grassland experiment. Nature 441:629-632.

Hill, J., E. Nelson, D. Tilman, S. Polasky and D Tiffany. 2006. Environmental, economic, and energetic costs and benefits of biodiesel and ethanol biofuels. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103:11206-11210.

Reich P.B., S.E. Hobbie, T. Lee, D.S. Ellsworth, J.B. West, D. Tilman, J.M.H. Knops, S. Naeem and J Trost. 2006. Nitrogen limitation constrains sustainability of ecosystem response to CO 2. Nature 440:922-925.

Tilman, D. 2004. Niche tradeoffs, neutrality, and community structure: A stochastic theory of resource competition, invasion, and community assembly. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101:10854-10861.

Mitchell, C., D. Tilman and J. V. Groth. 2002. Effects of grassland plant species diversity, abundance, and composition on foliar fungal disease. Ecology 83:1713-1726.

Kennedy, T. A., S. Naeem, K. M. Howe, J. M. H. Knops, D. Tilman and P. Reich. 2002. Biodiversity as a barrier to ecological invasion. Nature 417:636-638.

Tilman, D., P. B. Reich, J. Knops, D. Wedin, T. Mielke and C. Lehman. 2001. Diversity and productivity in a long-term grassland experiment. Science 294:843-845.

Tilman, D., K. G. Cassman, P. A. Matson, R. Naylor and S. Polasky. 2002. Agricultural sustainability and intensive production practices. Nature 418:671-677.

Tilman, D., J. Fargione, B. Wolff, C. D'Antonio, A. Dobson, R. Howarth, D. Schindler, W. Schlesinger, D. Simberloff, D. Swackhamer. 2001. Forecasting Agriculturally Driven Global Environmental Change. Science 292:281-284.

Tilman, D. 2000. Causes, consequences and ethics of biodiversity. Nature 405:208-211.

Tilman, D. 1999. The ecological consequences of changes in biodiversity: a search for general principles. The Robert H. MacArthur Award Lecture. Ecology 80:1455-1474.

Tilman, D. 1998. The greening of the green revolution. Nature 396:211-212.

Cohen, J. E. and D. Tilman. 1996. Biosphere 2 and biodiversity: the lessons so far. Science 274:1150-1151.

Tilman, D. 1996. Biodiversity: Population versus ecosystem stability. Ecology 77(3):350-363.

Tilman, D., D. Wedin and J. Knops. 1996. Productivity and sustainability influenced by biodiversity in grassland ecosystems. Nature 379:718-720.

Wedin, D. A. and D. Tilman. 1996. Influence of nitrogen loading and species composition on the carbon balance of grasslands. Science 274:1720-1723.

Siemann, E., D. Tilman and J. Haarstad. 1996. Insect species diversity, abundance and body size relationships. Nature 380:704-706.

Cohen, J. E. and D. Tilman. 1996. Biosphere 2 and biodiversity: the lessons so far. Science 274:1150-1151.

Tilman, D. and J.A. Downing. 1994. Biodiversity and stability in grasslands. Nature 367:363-365.

Tilman, D., R.M. May, C.L. Lehman, and M.A. Nowak. 1994. Habitat destruction and the extinction debt. Nature 371:65-66.

Tilman, D. and A. El Haddi. 1992. Drought and biodiversity in grasslands. Oecologia 89:257-264.

Education and background


Ph.D., University of Michigan, 1976


Kinzig, A. P., S. W. Pacala and D. Tilman. 2002. Functional Consequences of Biodiversity: Empirical Progress and Theoretical Extensions. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.

Tilman, D. and P. Karieva, Eds. 1997. Spatial Ecology: The Role of Space in Population Dynamics and Interspecific Interactions. Monographs in Population Biology, Princeton University Press. 368 pp

Grace, J. and D. Tilman, Editors. 1990. Perspectives in Plant Competition. Academic Press, New York.

Tilman, D. 1988. Plant Strategies and the Dynamics and Structure of Plant Communities. Monographs in Population Biology, Princeton University Press. 360 pp.

Tilman, D. 1982. Resource Competition and Community Structure. Monographs in Population Biology, Princeton University Press. 296 pp.

Additional Links

Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve

IGERT Training Grant