Latest Briefing in Sustainability and Communities

Moss Carder-bee (Bombus muscorum) on silverweed (Potentilla anserina)

Linkages between functional traits can predict ecosystem services

Plant functional traits (characteristics that define species in terms of their ecological roles and interactions) have been shown as effective indicators of ecosystem function and hence the delivery of ecosystem services. For instance, there are strong correlations between management intensity and traits related to leaf investment and leaf longevity, which in turn control key services such as plant growth (primary production) and nutrient cycling.

However, certain services, such as pollination and pest control, are delivered by trophic levels other than the primary producers (plants). Organisms that deliver services from these other trophic levels may not be directly affected by land management that acts on the plants present. What is needed is a mechanistic way to identify how the impacts of land management cascade through the entire ecosystem. A framework has been proposed that does this through linking functional traits between trophic levels. For example, pollinator communities are controlled by the availability of floral resources and the structure of flowers – short-tongued bumblebees cannot feed on flowers with deep set nectaries. Hence, in this example, what needs to be understood is how management affects the flower traits in the vegetation, and how these in turn affect the pollination.

Research at the James Hutton Institute has addressed how traits can be used to link different trophic levels and to understand how management impacts cascade through functional pathways in ecosystems. This was done via a simultaneous study of plant, bee and carabid beetle communities.

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Published on 3 April 2014 in Sustainability and Communities , Ecosystems and biodiversity

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