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The Importance of Species Identity & Interactions for Multifunctionality Depends on How Ecosystem Functions are Valued

October 09, 2017 |

This paper was originally published in Ecology

Abstract: Studies investigating how biodiversity affects ecosystem functioning increasingly focus on multiple functions measured simultaneously (“multifunctionality”). However, few such studies assess the role of species interactions, particularly under alternative environmental scenarios, despite interactions being key to ecosystem functioning.

Here we address five questions of central importance to ecosystem multifunctionality using a terrestrial animal system. (1) Does the contribution of individual species differ for different ecosystem functions? (2) Do inter-species interactions affect the delivery of single functions and multiple functions? (3) Does the community composition that maximizes individual functions also maximize multifunctionality? (4) Is the functional role of individual species, and the effect of interspecific interactions, modified by changing environmental conditions? (5) How do these roles and interactions change under varying scenarios where ecosystem services are weighted to reflect different societal preferences?

We manipulated species’ relative abundance in dung beetle communities and measured 16 functions contributing to dung decomposition, plant productivity, nutrient recycling, reduction of greenhouse gases, and microbial activity. Using the multivariate diversity–interactions framework, we assessed how changes in species identity, composition, and interspecific interactions affected these functions in combination with an environmental driver (increased precipitation). This allowed us to identify key species and interactions across multiple functions.

We then developed a desirability function approach to examine how individual species and species mixtures contribute to a desired state of overall ecosystem functioning. Species contributed unequally to individual functions, and to multifunctionality, and individual functions were maximized by different community compositions. Moreover, the species and interactions important for maintaining overall multifunctionality depended on the weight given to individual functions.

Optimal multifunctionality was context-dependent, and sensitive to the valuation of services. This combination of methodological approaches allowed us to resolve the interactions and indirect effects among species that drive ecosystem functioning, revealing how multiple aspects of biodiversity can simultaneously drive ecosystem functioning. Our results highlight the importance of a multifunctionality perspective for a complete assessment of species’ functional contributions…”

Read on and access the full paper at: Ecology.

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