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Estimating the magnitude of morphoscapes: how to measure the morphological component of biodiversity in relation to habitats using geometric morphometrics

Abstract

Ecological indicators are currently developed to account for the different facets of loss of biological diversity due to direct or indirect effects of human activities. Most ecological indicators include species richness as a metric. Others, such as functional traits and phylogenetic diversity, account for differences in species, even when species richness is the same. Here, we describe and apply a different indicator, called morphoscape dimension, accounting for morphological variability across habitats in a geographical region. We use the case of ground beetles (Coleoptera: Carabidae) in four different habitats in the Po Plain in Northern Italy to exemplify how to quantify the magnitude of the morphological space (i.e. the dimension of the morphoscape) occupied by the species in each habitat using geometric morphometrics. To this aim, we employed a variety of metrics of morphological disparity related to univariate size, and more complex multivariate shape and form. Our ‘proof of concept’ suggests that metrics assessing size and form might largely tend to simply mirror the information provided by species richness, whereas shape morphoscape disparity may be able to account for non-trivial differences in species traits amongst habitats. This is indicated by the woodland morphoscape being on average bigger than that of crops, the most species-rich habitat, despite having almost 20% less species. We conclude suggesting that the analysis of morphoscape dimension has the potential to become a new additional and complimentary tool in the hands of conservation biologists and ecologists to explore and quantify habitat complexity and inform decisions on management and conservation based on a wide set of ecological indicators.

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Acknowledgements

We are deeply grateful to F. Rigato, F. Melotti, M. Barbieri, M. Coltellacci, M. Gobbi and F.J. Rohlf for their technical and methodological advice on different aspects of the data collection and analysis. We are also grateful to the anonymous reviewers, whose comments greatly helped us to make a much better paper. AC and DF designed the study, and they wrote the paper with the help of MPan and MM. AC did the analyses with the contribution of MPan. DF, MPan, MM, DM, MPav and AC collected the data. This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

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Correspondence to Andrea Cardini.

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Communicated by: Sven Thatje

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Fontaneto, D., Panisi, M., Mandrioli, M. et al. Estimating the magnitude of morphoscapes: how to measure the morphological component of biodiversity in relation to habitats using geometric morphometrics. Sci Nat 104, 55 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-017-1475-3

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Keywords

  • Carabidae
  • Disparity
  • Landmarks
  • Procrustes geometric morphometrics
  • Shape