Rare species support vulnerable functions in high-diversity ecosystems

Mouillot, David, Bellwood, David R., Baraloto, Christopher, Chave, Jerome, Galzin, Rene, Harmelin-Vivien, Mireille, Kulbicki, Michel, Lavergne, Sebastien, Lavorel, Sandra, Mouquet, Nicolas, Paine, C.E. Timothy, Renaud, Julien, and Thuiller, Wilfried (2013) Rare species support vulnerable functions in high-diversity ecosystems. PLoS Biology, 11 (5). e1001569. pp. 1-11.

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Abstract

Around the world, the human-induced collapses of populations and species have triggered a sixth mass extinction crisis, with rare species often being the first to disappear. Although the role of species diversity in the maintenance of ecosystem processes has been widely investigated, the role of rare species remains controversial. A critical issue is whether common species insure against the loss of functions supported by rare species. This issue is even more critical in species-rich ecosystems where high functional redundancy among species is likely and where it is thus often assumed that ecosystem functioning is buffered against species loss. Here, using extensive datasets of species occurrences and functional traits from three highly diverse ecosystems (846 coral reef fishes, 2,979 alpine plants, and 662 tropical trees), we demonstrate that the most distinct combinations of traits are supported predominantly by rare species both in terms of local abundance and regional occupancy. Moreover, species that have low functional redundancy and are likely to support the most vulnerable functions, with no other species carrying similar combinations of traits, are rarer than expected by chance in all three ecosystems. For instance, 63% and 98% of fish species that are likely to support highly vulnerable functions in coral reef ecosystems are locally and regionally rare, respectively. For alpine plants, 32% and 89% of such species are locally and regionally rare, respectively. Remarkably, 47% of fish species and 55% of tropical tree species that are likely to support highly vulnerable functions have only one individual per sample on average. Our results emphasize the importance of rare species conservation, even in highly diverse ecosystems, which are thought to exhibit high functional redundancy. Rare species offer more than aesthetic, cultural, or taxonomic diversity value; they disproportionately increase the potential breadth of functions provided by ecosystems across spatial scales. As such, they are likely to insure against future uncertainty arising from climate change and the ever-increasing anthropogenic pressures on ecosystems. Our results call for a more detailed understanding of the role of rarity and functional vulnerability in ecosystem functioning.

Item ID: 28758
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1545-7885
Additional Information:

© 2013 Mouillot et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funders: Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship (FISHECO), European Research Council, ANR DIVERSITALP, Sixth European Framework Programme, Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: FISHECO agreement number IOF-GA-2009-236316, European Research Council's European Community's Seven Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013 Grant Agreement no. 281422, ANR DIVERSITALP ANR-07-BDIV-014, Sixth European Framework Programme ECOCHANGE project GOCE-CT-2007-036866, ANR 3Worlds ANR-07-CIS7-001, 6e extinction ANR-09-PEXT-01102 “EVORANGE”, FRB project CESAB-GASPAR
Date Deposited: 07 Aug 2013 05:34
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060202 Community Ecology (excl Invasive Species Ecology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970105 Expanding Knowledge in the Environmental Sciences @ 100%
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