Humanity depends on biodiversity for health, well-being, and a stable environment. As biodiversity change accelerates, we are still discovering the full range of consequences for human health and well-being. Here, we test the hypothesis—derived from biodiversity–ecosystem functioning theory—that species richness and ecological functional diversity allow seafood diets to fulfill multiple nutritional requirements, a condition necessary for human health. We analyzed a newly synthesized dataset of 7,245 observations of nutrient and contaminant concentrations in 801 aquatic animal taxa and found that species with different ecological traits have distinct and complementary micronutrient profiles but little difference in protein content. The same complementarity mechanisms that generate positive biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning in terrestrial ecosystems also operate in seafood assemblages, allowing more diverse diets to yield increased nutritional benefits independent of total biomass consumed. Notably, nutritional metrics that capture multiple micronutrients and fatty acids essential for human well-being depend more strongly on biodiversity than common ecological measures of function such as productivity, typically reported for grasslands and forests. Furthermore, we found that increasing species richness did not increase the amount of protein in seafood diets and also increased concentrations of toxic metal contaminants in the diet. Seafood-derived micronutrients and fatty acids are important for human health and are a pillar of global food and nutrition security. By drawing upon biodiversity–ecosystem functioning theory, we demonstrate that ecological concepts of biodiversity can deepen our understanding of nature’s benefits to people and unite sustainability goals for biodiversity and human well-being.
Inverse: The best healthy seafood diet depends on one critical factor
UBC Science: Aquatic biodiversity key to sustainable, nutrient-rich diets