Summary1. The goal of conservation and restoration activities is to maintain biological diversity and the ecosystem services that this diversity provides. These activities traditionally focus on the measures of species diversity that include only information on the presence and abundance of species. Yet how diversity influences ecosystem function depends on the traits and niches filled by species. 2. Biological diversity can be quantified in ways that account for functional and phenotypic differences. A number of such measures of functional diversity (FD) have been created, quantifying the distribution of traits in a community or the relative magnitude of species similarities and differences. We review FD measures and why they are intuitively useful for understanding ecological patterns and are important for management. 3. In order for FD to be meaningful and worth measuring, it must be correlated with ecosystem function, and it should provide information above and beyond what species richness or diversity can explain. We review these two propositions, examining whether the strength of the correlation between FD and species richness varies across differing environmental gradients and whether FD offers greater explanatory power of ecosystem function than species richness. 4. Previous research shows that the relationship between FD and richness is complex and context dependent. Different functional traits can show individual responses to different gradients, meaning that important changes in diversity can occur with minimal change in richness. Further, FD can explain variation in ecosystem function even when richness does not. 5. Synthesis and applications. FD measures those aspects of diversity that potentially affect community assembly and function. Given this explanatory power, FD should be incorporated into conservation and restoration decision-making, especially for those efforts attempting to reconstruct or preserve healthy, functioning ecosystems.
Accelerating rates of species extinction have prompted a growing number of researchers to manipulate the richness of various groups of organisms and examine how this aspect of diversity impacts ecological processes that control the functioning of ecosystems. We summarize the results of 44 experiments that have manipulated the richness of plants to examine how plant diversity affects the production of biomass. We show that mixtures of species produce an average of 1.7 times more biomass than species monocultures and are more productive than the average monoculture in 79% of all experiments. However, in only 12% of all experiments do diverse polycultures achieve greater biomass than their single most productive species. Previously, a positive net effect of diversity that is no greater than the most productive species has been interpreted as evidence for selection effects, which occur when diversity maximizes the chance that highly productive species will be included in and ultimately dominate the biomass of polycultures. Contrary to this, we show that although productive species do indeed contribute to diversity effects, these contributions are equaled or exceeded by species complementarity, where biomass is augmented by biological processes that involve multiple species. Importantly, both the net effect of diversity and the probability of polycultures being more productive than their most productive species increases through time, because the magnitude of complementarity increases as experiments are run longer. Our results suggest that experiments to date have, if anything, underestimated the impacts of species extinction on the productivity of ecosystems.biodiversity ͉ ecosystem function ͉ extinction ͉ productivity ͉ sampling effect
The composition of communities is strongly altered by anthropogenic manipulations of biogeochemical cycles, abiotic conditions, and trophic structure in all major ecosystems. Whereas the effects of species loss on ecosystem processes have received broad attention, the consequences of altered species dominance for emergent properties of communities and ecosystems are poorly investigated. Here we propose a framework guiding our understanding of how dominance affects species interactions within communities, processes within ecosystems, and dynamics on regional scales. Dominance (or the complementary term, evenness) reflects the distribution of traits in a community, which in turn affects the strength and sign of both intraspecifc and interspecific interactions. Consequently, dominance also mediates the effect of such interactions on species coexistence. We review the evidence for the fact that dominance directly affects ecosystem functions such as process rates via species identity (the dominant trait) and evenness (the frequency distribution of traits), and indirectly alters the relationship between process rates and species richness. Dominance also influences the temporal and spatial variability of aggregate community properties and compositional stability (invasibility). Finally, we propose that dominance affects regional species coexistence by altering metacommunity dynamics. Local dominance leads to high beta diversity, and rare species can persist because of source-sink dynamics, but anthropogenically induced environmental changes result in regional dominance and low beta diversity, reducing regional coexistence. Given the rapid anthropogenic alterations of dominance in many ecosystems and the strong implications of these changes, dominance should be considered explicitly in the analysis of consequences of altered biodiversity.
BackgroundTwo decades of research showing that increasing plant diversity results in greater community productivity has been predicated on greater functional diversity allowing access to more of the total available resources. Thus, understanding phenotypic attributes that allow species to partition resources is fundamentally important to explaining diversity-productivity relationships.Methodology/Principal FindingsHere we use data from a long-term experiment (Cedar Creek, MN) and compare the extent to which productivity is explained by seven types of community metrics of functional variation: 1) species richness, 2) variation in 10 individual traits, 3) functional group richness, 4) a distance-based measure of functional diversity, 5) a hierarchical multivariate clustering method, 6) a nonmetric multidimensional scaling approach, and 7) a phylogenetic diversity measure, summing phylogenetic branch lengths connecting community members together and may be a surrogate for ecological differences. Although most of these diversity measures provided significant explanations of variation in productivity, the presence of a nitrogen fixer and phylogenetic diversity were the two best explanatory variables. Further, a statistical model that included the presence of a nitrogen fixer, seed weight and phylogenetic diversity was a better explanation of community productivity than other models.ConclusionsEvolutionary relationships among species appear to explain patterns of grassland productivity. Further, these results reveal that functional differences among species involve a complex suite of traits and that perhaps phylogenetic relationships provide a better measure of the diversity among species that contributes to productivity than individual or small groups of traits.
Loss of biological diversity because of extinction is one of the most pronounced changes to the global environment. For several decades, researchers have tried to understand how changes in biodiversity might impact biomass production by examining how biomass correlates with a number of biodiversity metrics (especially the number of species and functional groups). This body of research has focused on species with the implicit assumption that they are independent entities. However, functional and ecological similarities are shaped by patterns of common ancestry, such that distantly related species might contribute more to production than close relatives, perhaps by increasing niche breadth. Here, we analyze 2 decades of experiments performed in grassland ecosystems throughout the world and examine whether the evolutionary relationships among the species comprising a community predict how biodiversity impacts plant biomass production. We show that the amount of phylogenetic diversity within communities explained significantly more variation in plant community biomass than other measures of diversity, such as the number of species or functional groups. Our results reveal how evolutionary history can provide critical information for understanding, predicting, and potentially ameliorating the effects of biodiversity loss and should serve as an impetus for new biodiversity experiments.community ecology ͉ ecosystem function ͉ phylogenetic diversity ͉ biodiversity experiments ͉ metaanalysis
Plant traits-the morphological, anatomical, physiological, biochemical and phenological characteristics of plants-determine how plants respond to environmental factors, affect other trophic levels, and influence ecosystem properties and their benefits and detriments to people. Plant trait data thus represent the basis for a vast area of research spanning from evolutionary biology, community and functional ecology, to biodiversity conservation, ecosystem and landscape management, restoration, biogeography and earth system modelling. Since its foundation in 2007, the TRY database of plant traits has grown continuously. It now provides unprecedented data coverage under an open access data policy and is the main plant trait database used by the research community worldwide. Increasingly, the TRY database also supports new frontiers of trait-based plant research, including the identification of data gaps and the subsequent mobilization or measurement of new data. To support this development, in this article we evaluate the extent of the trait data compiled in TRY and analyse emerging patterns of data coverage and representativeness. Best species coverage is achieved for categorical traits-almost complete coverage for 'plant growth form'. However, most traits relevant for ecology and vegetation modelling are characterized by continuous intraspecific variation and trait-environmental relationships. These traits have to be measured on individual plants in their respective environment. Despite unprecedented data coverage, we observe a humbling lack of completeness and representativeness of these continuous traits in many aspects.We, therefore, conclude that reducing data gaps and biases in the TRY database remains a key challenge and requires a coordinated approach to data mobilization and trait measurements. This can only be achieved in collaboration with other initiatives. Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP) and DIVERSITAS, the TRY database (TRY-not an acronym, rather a statement of sentiment; https ://www.try-db.org; Kattge et al., 2011) was proposed with the explicit assignment to improve the availability and accessibility of plant trait data for ecology and earth system sciences. The Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (MPI-BGC) offered to host the database and the different groups joined forces for this community-driven program. Two factors were key to the success of TRY: the support and trust of leaders in the field of functional plant ecology submitting large databases and the long-term funding by the Max Planck Society, the MPI-BGC and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, which has enabled the continuous development of the TRY database.
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