Marine benthic ecological functioning over decreasing taxonomic richness

Anna Tornroos, Erik Bonsdorff, Julie Bremner, Mats Blomqvist, Alf B. Josefson, Clement Garcia, Jan Warzocha

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65 Citations (Scopus)


Alterations to ecosystem function due to reductions in species richness are predicted to increase as humans continue to affect the marine environment, especially in coastal areas, which serve as the interface between land and sea. The potential functional consequences due to reductions in species diversity have attracted considerable attention recently but little is known about the consequence of such loss in natural communities. We examined how the potential for function is affected by natural reductions in taxon richness using empirical (non-simulated) coastal marine benthic macrofaunal data from the Skagerrak-Baltic Sea region (N. Europe), where taxon richness decreases 25-fold, from 151 to 6 taxa. To estimate functional changes we defined multiple traits (10 traits and 51 categories) on which trait category richness, functional diversity (FD) and number of taxa per trait category were calculated. Our results show that decrease in taxon richness leads to an overall reduction in function but functional richness remains comparatively high even at the lowest level of taxon richness. Although the taxonomic reduction was sharp, up to 96% of total taxon richness, we identified both potential thresholds in functioning and subtler changes where function was maintained along the gradient. The functional changes were not only caused by reductions in taxa per trait category, some categories were maintained or even increased. Primarily, the reduction in species richness altered trait categories related to feeding, living and movement and thus potentially could have an effect on various ecosystem processes. This highlights the importance of recognising ecosystem multifunctionality, especially at low taxonomic richness. We also found that in this system rare species (singletons) did not stand for the functional complexities and changes. Our findings were consistent with theoretical and experimental predictions and suggest that a large proportion of the information about alterations of function is found in measures such as functional diversity and number of taxa per trait category. (C) 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-56
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Sea Research
Early online date9 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015


  • Biodiversity
  • Species Richness
  • Functional Diversity (FD)
  • Functional Change
  • Trait Analysis
  • Zoobenthos

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