Traits underpinning desiccation resistance explain distribution patterns of terrestrial isopods
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- Dias, A.T.C., Krab, E.J., Mariën, J. et al. Oecologia (2013) 172: 667. doi:10.1007/s00442-012-2541-3
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Predicted changes in soil water availability regimes with climate and land-use change will impact the community of functionally important soil organisms, such as macro-detritivores. Identifying and quantifying the functional traits that underlie interspecific differences in desiccation resistance will enhance our ability to predict both macro-detritivore community responses to changing water regimes and the consequences of the associated species shifts for organic matter turnover. Using path analysis, we tested (1) how interspecific differences in desiccation resistance among 22 northwestern European terrestrial isopod species could be explained by three underlying traits measured under standard laboratory conditions, namely, body ventral surface area, water loss rate and fatal water loss; (2) whether these relationships were robust to contrasting experimental conditions and to the phylogenetic relatedness effects being excluded; (3) whether desiccation resistance and hypothesized underlying traits could explain species distribution patterns in relation to site water availability. Water loss rate and (secondarily) fatal water loss together explained 90 % of the interspecific variation in desiccation resistance. Our path model indicated that body surface area affects desiccation resistance only indirectly via changes in water loss rate. Our results also show that soil moisture determines isopod species distributions by filtering them according to traits underpinning desiccation resistance. These findings reveal that it is possible to use functional traits measured under standard conditions to predict soil biota responses to water availability in the field over broad spatial scales. Taken together, our results demonstrate an increasing need to generate mechanistic models to predict the effect of global changes on functionally important organisms.