, Volume 14, Issue 7, pp 1168-1177
Date: 26 Aug 2011

Assessing the Use of Functional Diversity as a Measure of Ecological Resilience in Arid Rangelands

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It is becoming more apparent that species richness alone many not be sufficient to fully understand ecosystem resilience but that functional diversity (diversity of species having similar effects on an ecosystem process) may be more relevant. In particular, response diversity (diversity of species that respond differently to disturbance) within functional groups (FG) is suggested to be critical for resilience. We assess for the first time the use of response diversity as a measure of resilience in an empirical study. Our experimental design consisted of sites with three disturbance intensities during a grazing exclosure period and the same sites, 1 year later, after grazing. Plant FGs were identified based on effect traits related to nutrient cycling and soil retention, and species richness within groups was assessed during exclosure and after grazing. To assess if response diversity could predict loss of species richness (resilience analysis), response diversity was calculated only during the exclosure period, based on traits related to grazing tolerance. We also assessed the contribution of richness to response diversity during exclosure (redundancy analysis). Response diversity was significantly and highly correlated with species richness within FGs during disturbance. That is, FGs with the lowest response diversity were the most affected, disappearing when disturbance appeared. Richness within FGs during exclosure was not significantly correlated with response diversity, showing that higher richness does not ensure resilience. We conclude that response diversity can be used to predict which FGs are more resilient, and hence, less vulnerable to future disturbance.

Author Contributions

VC and RAO conceived and designed experiments; VC performed research and analyzed data; MA contributed new analyses and models; VC, MA, and RAO wrote the article.