The pattern of a few abundant species and many rarer species is a defining characteristic of communities worldwide. These abundant species are often referred to as dominant species. Yet, despite their importance, the term dominant species is poorly defined and often used to convey different information by different authors. Based on a review of historical and contemporary definitions we develop a synthetic definition of dominant species. This definition incorporates the relative local abundance of a species, its ubiquity across the landscape, and its impact on community and ecosystem properties. A meta-analysis of removal studies shows that the loss of species identified as dominant by authors can significantly impact ecosystem functioning and community structure. We recommend two metrics that can be used jointly to identify dominant species in a given community and provide a roadmap for future avenues of research on dominant species. In our review, we make the case that the identity and effects of dominant species on their environments are key to linking patterns of diversity to ecosystem function, including predicting impacts of species loss and other aspects of global change on ecosystems.
Keywords: biodiversity-ecosystem function; common species; dominance; foundation species; species abundance; species identity.
© 2019 The Authors. New Phytologist © 2019 New Phytologist Trust.