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Ecol Appl. 2010 Sep;20(6):1512-22.

Contrasting changes in taxonomic vs. functional diversity of tropical fish communities after habitat degradation.

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Université Montpellier 2, Ecosystèmes Lagunaires, UMR CNRS - IFREMER - UMR 5119, CC 093, 34095 Montpellier Cedex 5, France.


Human activities have strong impacts on ecosystem functioning through their effect on abiotic factors and on biodiversity. There is also growing evidence that species functional traits link changes in species composition and shifts in ecosystem processes. Hence, it appears to be of utmost importance to quantify modifications in the functional structure of species communities after human disturbance in addition to changes in taxonomic structure. Despite this fact, there is still little consensus on the actual impacts of human-mediated habitat alteration on the components of biodiversity, which include species functional traits. Therefore, we studied changes in taxonomic diversity (richness and evenness), in functional diversity, and in functional specialization of estuarine fish communities facing drastic environmental and habitat alterations. The Terminos Lagoon (Gulf of Mexico) is a tropical estuary of primary concern for its biodiversity, its habitats, and its resource supply, which have been severely impacted by human activities. Fish communities were sampled in four zones of the Terminos Lagoon 18 years apart (1980 and 1998). Two functions performed by fish (food acquisition and locomotion) were studied through the measurement of 16 functional traits. Functional diversity of fish communities was quantified using three independent components: richness, evenness, and divergence. Additionally, we measured the degree of functional specialization in fish communities. We used a null model to compare the functional and the taxonomic structure of fish communities between 1980 and 1998. Among the four largest zones studied, three did not show strong functional changes. In the northern part of the lagoon, we found an increase in fish richness but a significant decrease of functional divergence and functional specialization. We explain this result by a decline of specialized species (i.e., those with particular combinations of traits), while newly occurring species are redundant with those already present. The species that decreased in abundance have functional traits linked to seagrass habitats that regressed consecutively to increasing eutrophication. The paradox found in our study highlights the need for a multifaceted approach in the assessment of biodiversity changes in communities under pressure.

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