The Evolution of Functionally Redundant Species; Evidence from Beetles

M. Scheffer, R.O.H. Vergnon, E.H. van Nes, J.G.M. Cuppen, E.T.H.M. Peeters, R. Leijs, A.N. Nilsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


While species fulfill many different roles in ecosystems, it has been suggested that numerous species might actually share the same function in a near neutral way. So-far, however, it is unclear whether such functional redundancy really exists. We scrutinize this question using extensive data on the world’s 4168 species of diving beetles. We show that across the globe these animals have evolved towards a small number of regularly-spaced body sizes, and that locally co-existing species are either very similar in size or differ by at least 35%. Surprisingly, intermediate size differences (10–20%) are rare. As body-size strongly reflects functional aspects such as the food that these generalist predators can eat, these beetles thus form relatively distinct groups of functional look-a-likes. The striking global regularity of these patterns support the idea that a self-organizing process drives such species-rich groups to self-organize evolutionary into clusters where functional redundancy ensures resilience through an insurance effect.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0137974
Number of pages10
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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