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Functional trait diversity maximizes ecosystem multifunctionality

Nature Ecology & Evolution volume 1, Article number: 0132 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Understanding the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning has been a core ecological research topic over the past decades. Although a key hypothesis is that the diversity of functional traits determines ecosystem functioning, we do not know how much trait diversity is needed to maintain multiple ecosystem functions simultaneously (multifunctionality). Here, we uncovered a scaling relationship between the abundance distribution of two key plant functional traits (specific leaf area, maximum plant height) and multifunctionality in 124 dryland plant communities spread over all continents except Antarctica. For each trait, we found a strong empirical relationship between the skewness and the kurtosis of the trait distributions that cannot be explained by chance. This relationship predicted a strikingly high trait diversity within dryland plant communities, which was associated with a local maximization of multifunctionality. Skewness and kurtosis had a much stronger impact on multifunctionality than other important multifunctionality drivers such as species richness and aridity. The scaling relationship identified here quantifies how much trait diversity is required to maximize multifunctionality locally. Trait distributions can be used to predict the functional consequences of biodiversity loss in terrestrial ecosystems.

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Acknowledgements

This work was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC grant agreement 242658 (BIOCOM). Y.L.B.P was supported by a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Individual Fellowship within the European programme Horizon 2020 (DRYFUN project 656035). N.G. was support by the AgreenSkills+ fellowship programme, which has received funding from the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme under grant agreement FP7-609398 (AgreenSkills+ contract). F.T.M. acknowledges support from the ERC (grant agreement 647038; BIODESERT). N.J.G. was supported by the US NSF DEB 1257625, NSF DEB 1144055 and NSF DEB 1136644. M.B. was supported by an FPU fellowship from the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports (ref. AP2010-0759). We are very grateful to L. Börger, D. Eldridge, M. García-Gómez, V. Maire, M. Robson, H. Saiz and C. Violle for providing comments on previous versions of the manuscript, and to C. Mañá for explaining the statistical background on the skewness–kurtosis relationship.

Author information

Author notes

    • Nicolas Gross
    • , Yoann Le Bagousse-Pinguet
    •  & Pierre Liancourt

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

Affiliations

  1. Departamento de Biología y Geología, Física y Química Inorgánica, Escuela Superior de Ciencias Experimentales y Tecnología, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, C/ Tulipán s/n, 28933 Móstoles, Spain

    • Nicolas Gross
    • , Yoann Le Bagousse-Pinguet
    • , Miguel Berdugo
    •  & Fernando T. Maestre
  2. INRA, USC1339 Chizé (CEBC), F-79360 Villiers en Bois, France

    • Nicolas Gross
  3. Centre d’étude biologique de Chizé, CNRS - Université La Rochelle (UMR 7372), F-79360 Villiers en Bois, France

    • Nicolas Gross
  4. Institute of Botany, Czech Academy of Sciences, Dukelská 135, 379 82 Trebon, Czech Republic

    • Pierre Liancourt
  5. Department of Biology, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont 05405, USA

    • Nicholas J. Gotelli

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Contributions

N.G., Y.L.B.P. and P.L. developed the original idea. F.T.M. designed and collected the ‘drylands’ data set. N.G., Y.L.B.P., N.J.G. and M.B. conducted the statistical analyses. N.G., Y.L.B.P. and P.L. wrote the article, with major contributions from F.T.M., M.B. and N.J.G.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Nicolas Gross or Yoann Le Bagousse-Pinguet or Pierre Liancourt.

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    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Notes 1–5; Supplementary References; Supplementary Tables 1–3; Supplementary Figures 1–3

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-017-0132

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