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Book Chapter

Importance of trait-related flexibility for food-web dynamics and the maintenance of biodiversity


Binzer,  Amrei
Department Evolutionary Ecology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Gaedke, U., Beisner, B. E., Binzer, A., Downing, A., Guill, C., Klauschies, T., et al. (2017). Importance of trait-related flexibility for food-web dynamics and the maintenance of biodiversity. In J. Moore, P. De Ruiter, K. McCann, & V. Wolters (Eds.), Adaptive Food Webs: Stability and Transitions of Real and Model Ecosystems (pp. 146-163). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781316871867.012.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0001-96C2-A
Introduction Although the ubiquitous biodiversity-related flexibility of ecological systems is qualitatively well established, most empirical and theoretical studies regard ecological systems so far as units with rigid, predefined properties. The reason for this static approach is that incorporating the tremendous diversity and flexibility of natural systems into empirical and theoretical studies has been extremely challenging in terms of developing consistent mathematical frameworks and designing appropriate experiments. This approach has also been necessary owing to the lack of empirical data on the ability of species to change properties over time. A recent approach to solve this problem is to move from a species- to a trait-based perspective. This is not just a change in terminology but in concept, providing a mechanistic basis for biodiversity–ecosystem function relationships and improving our potential to identify general rules in community ecology (McGill et al., 2006; Savage et al., 2007; Hillebrand and Matthiessen, 2009). Functional traits are used to link species to their function in the ecosystem. They are well defined, measurable properties of individuals (e.g., edibility or diet selectivity) affecting their performance and responses to environmental changes and hence population and community dynamics as well as trophic interactions. The frequency distribution of functional traits (Figure 10.1a) enables a quantification of functional diversity. Large variation in trait values (e.g., a full range from highly edible, fast growing to almost inedible, slow growing species) implies a high functional diversity and vice versa. This trait distribution may be described by its shape and central tendency (Figure 10.1b) and may change in response to altered abiotic (e.g., temperature) and biotic conditions (e.g., predator density) and thus characterize the milieu with which individual organisms interact (McGill et al., 2006) (Figure 10.1c). Scientific Background Maintaining the different kinds of ecosystem services in a way that optimizes human well-being and economy is one of the most urgent tasks of our century, which challenges policy-makers as well as scientists. The frequency and intensity of land use, climate change, and other anthropogenically induced environmental disturbances are accelerating biodiversity declines worldwide. The negative impact of these processes on ecological systems (e.g., individuals, populations, communities, and food webs) may amplify each other: environmental changes can accelerate biodiversity loss and a reduced biodiversity may increase the sensitivity of ecological systems to environmental changes. © Cambridge University Press 2018.