The importance of species identity and interactions on multifunctionality depends on how ecosystem functions are valued

Eleanor M. Slade (Lead / Corresponding author), Laura Kirwan, Thomas Bell, Christopher Philipson, Owen T. Lewis, Tomas Roslin

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    60 Citations (Scopus)
    457 Downloads (Pure)


    Studies investigating how biodiversity affects ecosystem functioning increasingly focus on multiple functions measured simultaneously ('multifunctionality'). However, few such studies assess the role of species interactions, particularly under alternative environmental scenarios, despite interactions being key to ecosystem functioning. Here we address five questions of central importance to ecosystem multifunctionality using a terrestrial animal system: 1) Does the contribution of individual species differ for different ecosystem functions?; 2) Do inter-species interactions affect the delivery of single functions and multiple functions?; 3) Does the community composition which maximises individual functions also maximise multifunctionality?; 4) Is the functional role of individual species, and the effect of interspecific interactions, modified by changing environmental conditions?; and 5) How do these roles and interactions change under varying scenarios where ecosystem services are weighted to reflect different societal preferences? We manipulated species' relative abundance in dung beetle communities and measured 16 functions contributing to dung decomposition, plant productivity, nutrient recycling, reduction of greenhouse gases, and microbial activity. Using the Multivariate Diversity-Interactions framework, we assessed how changes in species identity, composition, and interspecific interactions affected these functions in combination with an environmental driver (increased precipitation). This allowed us to identify key species and interactions across multiple functions. We then developed a Desirability Function Approach to examine how individual species and species mixtures contribute to a desired state of overall ecosystem functioning. Species contributed unequally to individual functions, and to multifunctionality, and individual functions were maximised by different community compositions. Moreover, the species and interactions important for maintaining overall multifunctionality depended on the weight given to individual functions. This combination of methodological approaches allows us to resolve the interactions and indirect effects among species that drive ecosystem functioning, revealing how multiple aspects of biodiversity can simultaneously drive ecosystem functioning. Optimal multifunctionality is therefore context-dependent, and is sensitive to the valuation of services. Our results highlight the importance of a multifunctionality perspective for complete assessment of species' functional contributions. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2626-2639
    Issue number10
    Early online date19 Jul 2017
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2017


    • Journal article
    • Biodiversity
    • ecosystem function
    • Multivariate diversity-interaction model
    • Dung beetle
    • Environmental perturbation
    • Ecosystem services


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