Rare species contribute disproportionately to the functional structure of species assemblages

Proc Biol Sci. 2016 Apr 13;283(1828):20160084. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0084.


There is broad consensus that the diversity of functional traits within species assemblages drives several ecological processes. It is also widely recognized that rare species are the first to become extinct following human-induced disturbances. Surprisingly, however, the functional importance of rare species is still poorly understood, particularly in tropical species-rich assemblages where the majority of species are rare, and the rate of species extinction can be high. Here, we investigated the consequences of local and regional extinctions on the functional structure of species assemblages. We used three extensive datasets (stream fish from the Brazilian Amazon, rainforest trees from French Guiana, and birds from the Australian Wet Tropics) and built an integrative measure of species rarity versus commonness, combining local abundance, geographical range, and habitat breadth. Using different scenarios of species loss, we found a disproportionate impact of rare species extinction for the three groups, with significant reductions in levels of functional richness, specialization, and originality of assemblages, which may severely undermine the integrity of ecological processes. The whole breadth of functional abilities within species assemblages, which is disproportionately supported by rare species, is certainly critical in maintaining ecosystems particularly under the ongoing rapid environmental transitions.

Keywords: conservation; extinction; functional diversity; null models; rarity index; tropical biodiversity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity*
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Brazil
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Extinction, Biological*
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • French Guiana
  • Population Density
  • Queensland
  • Rainforest
  • Trees / physiology*

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.8S58V