Loss of rare fish species from tropical floodplain food webs affects community structure and ecosystem multifunctionality in a mesocosm experiment.
ABSTRACT Experiments with realistic scenarios of species loss from multitrophic ecosystems may improve insight into how biodiversity affects ecosystem functioning. Using 1000 L mesocoms, we examined effects of nonrandom species loss on community structure and ecosystem functioning of experimental food webs based on multitrophic tropical floodplain lagoon ecosystems. Realistic biodiversity scenarios were developed based on long-term field surveys, and experimental assemblages replicated sequential loss of rare species which occurred across all trophic levels of these complex food webs. Response variables represented multiple components of ecosystem functioning, including nutrient cycling, primary and secondary production, organic matter accumulation and whole ecosystem metabolism. Species richness significantly affected ecosystem function, even after statistically controlling for potentially confounding factors such as total biomass and direct trophic interactions. Overall, loss of rare species was generally associated with lower nutrient concentrations, phytoplankton and zooplankton densities, and whole ecosystem metabolism when compared with more diverse assemblages. This pattern was also observed for overall ecosystem multifunctionality, a combined metric representing the ability of an ecosystem to simultaneously maintain multiple functions. One key exception was attributed to time-dependent effects of intraguild predation, which initially increased values for most ecosystem response variables, but resulted in decreases over time likely due to reduced nutrient remineralization by surviving predators. At the same time, loss of species did not result in strong trophic cascades, possibly a result of compensation and complexity of these multitrophic ecosystems along with a dominance of bottom-up effects. Our results indicate that although rare species may comprise minor components of communities, their loss can have profound ecosystem consequences across multiple trophic levels due to a combination of direct and indirect effects in diverse multitrophic ecosystems.
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ABSTRACT: New studies are documenting trophic cascades in theoretically unlikely systems such as tropical forests and the open ocean. Together with increasing evidence of cascades, there is a deepening understanding of the conditions that promote and inhibit the transmission of predatory effects. These conditions include the relative productivity of ecosystems, presence of refuges and the potential for compensation. However, trophic cascades are also altered by humans. Analyses of the extirpation of large animals reveal loss of cascades, and the potential of conservation to restore not only predator populations but also the ecosystem-level effects that ramify from their presence.Trends in Ecology & Evolution 01/2000; · 15.39 Impact Factor