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Ecol Evol. 2013 Sep;3(9):2958-75. doi: 10.1002/ece3.601. Epub 2013 Jul 30.

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

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Instituto Multidisciplinario de Biología Vegetal (CONICET-UNC) and FCEFyN, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba Argentina.


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.


Biodiversity loss; ecosystem vulnerability; functional traits; phylogenetic conservatism; specific effect function; specific response function

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