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.
- community ecology
- primary production