Functional traits, the phylogeny of function, and ecosystem service vulnerability.

S. Diaz, A. Purvis, J.H.C. Cornelissen, G.M. Mace, M.J. Donoghue, R.M. Ewers, P. Jordano, W.D. Pearse

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

People depend on benefits provided by ecological systems. Understanding how these ecosystem services - and the ecosystem properties underpinning them - respond to drivers of change is therefore an urgent priority. We address this challenge through developing a novel risk-assessment framework that integrates ecological and evolutionary perspectives on functional traits to determine species' effects on ecosystems and their tolerance of environmental changes. We define Specific Effect Function (SEF) as the per-gram or per capita capacity of a species to affect an ecosystem property, and Specific Response Function (SRF) as the ability of a species to maintain or enhance its population as the environment changes. Our risk assessment is based on the idea that the security of ecosystem services depends on how effects (SEFs) and tolerances (SRFs) of organisms - which both depend on combinations of functional traits - correlate across species and how they are arranged on the species' phylogeny. Four extreme situations are theoretically possible, from minimum concern when SEF and SRF are neither correlated nor show a phylogenetic signal, to maximum concern when they are negatively correlated (i.e., the most important species are the least tolerant) and phylogenetically patterned (lacking independent backup). We illustrate the assessment with five case studies, involving both plant and animal examples. However, the extent to which the frequency of the four plausible outcomes, or their intermediates, apply more widely in real-world ecological systems is an open question that needs empirical evidence, and suggests a research agenda at the interface of evolutionary biology and ecosystem ecology. We offer a new synthesis integrating in a single, coherent framework the evolution of organismal traits, ecosystem process and services, and their security or vulnerability in the face of specific kinds of environmental change. Our risk assessment integrates ecological and evolutionary perspectives on functional traits to determine species' effects on ecosystems and their tolerance of different environmental threats. Applying the assessment to five case studies, we show that the security of ecosystem services depends on how effects and tolerances of organisms - which both depend on combinations of functional traits - correlate across species and how they are arranged on the phylogenetic tree. Our framework highlights the importance of phylogenetic redundancy in species' effects and the risks of strong phylogenetic patterning in species' tolerances, and suggests a concrete, new research agenda at the interface of evolutionary biology and ecosystem ecology. © 2013 The Authors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2598-2975
JournalEcology and Evolution
Volume3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

    Fingerprint

Cite this

Diaz, S., Purvis, A., Cornelissen, J. H. C., Mace, G. M., Donoghue, M. J., Ewers, R. M., ... Pearse, W. D. (2013). Functional traits, the phylogeny of function, and ecosystem service vulnerability. Ecology and Evolution, 3, 2598-2975. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.601