Shifts of community composition and population density substantially affect ecosystem function despite invariant richness

Jurg W. Spaak*, Jan M. Baert, Donald J. Baird, Nico Eisenhauer, Lorraine Maltby, Francesco Pomati, Viktoriia Radchuk, Jason R. Rohr, Paul J. van den Brink, Frederik De Laender

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterAcademicpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

There has been considerable focus on the impacts of environmental change on ecosystem function arising from changes in species richness. However, environmental change may affect ecosystem function without affecting richness, most notably by affecting population densities and community composition. Using a theoretical model, we find that, despite invariant richness, (1) small environmental effects may already lead to a collapse of function; (2) competitive strength may be a less important determinant of ecosystem function change than the selectivity of the environmental change driver and (3) effects on ecosystem function increase when effects on composition are larger. We also present a complementary statistical analysis of 13 data sets of phytoplankton and periphyton communities exposed to chemical stressors and show that effects on primary production under invariant richness ranged from −75% to +10%. We conclude that environmental protection goals relying on measures of richness could underestimate ecological impacts of environmental change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1315-1324
JournalEcology Letters
Volume20
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • Algae
  • biodiversity
  • coexistence
  • community ecology
  • modelling
  • primary production

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