Community Ecology

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 11–16 | Cite as

Quantifying functional diversity with graph-theoretical measures: advantages and pitfalls

  • C. RicottaEmail author
  • M. Moretti
Open Access


Recently, a number of measures of functional diversity have been proposed for data on species presences and absences. One of the most fashionable methods uses cluster analysis of species computed from a matrix of functional characters. Functional diversity is then summarized as the sum of branch lengths of the dendrogram (FDD). Like other graph-theoretical measures of functional diversity, FDD is an increasing function of species richness. This makes FDD inadequate for comparative studies if we want to quantify a component of functional diversity that is not directly related to differences in species counts. The aim of this paper is thus to develop a graph-theoretical measure of functional diversity that does not depend of species richness. The edges of the minimum spanning tree, calculated from the pair-wise inter-species dissimilarity matrix based on functional traits, are ranked and then a power law relationship is established with the cumulative distances. We empirically demonstrate that the exponent of this relationship is independent of species richness and is therefore a suitable measure of functional diversity.


Clustering Minimum spanning tree Pair-wise species distances 



Functional Diversity based on Dendrograms


Functional Diversity based on Minimum spanning trees


Minimum Spanning Tree


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© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest 2008

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Plant BiologyUniversity of Rome “La Sapienza”RomeItaly
  2. 2.Swiss Federal Research Institute WSLResearch Unit Ecosystem BoundariesBellinzonaSwitzerland

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