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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 548:1-10 (2016)  -  DOI:

Mapping functional groups can provide insight into ecosystem functioning and potential resilience of intertidal sandflats

Barry L. Greenfield1, Casper Kraan1,2,*, Conrad A. Pilditch3, Simon F. Thrush4

1National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, PO Box 11-115, Hamilton 3216, New Zealand
2Biometry and Environmental System Analysis, University of Freiburg, Tennenbacher Str. 4, 79106 Freiburg, Germany
3School of Science, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
4Institute of Marine Science, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142, New Zealand
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The ability of species to maintain ecosystem functions under environmental stress depends on their vulnerability, adaptability and potential for dispersal and re-establishment. Species that share traits can perform similar functions, thus offering functional redundancy, and therefore potentially confer resilience in ecosystem function. In this regard, both species abundance and occurrence across a landscape are likely to affect the importance of redundancy. To investigate spatial patterns in functional redundancy, we assessed the degree to which specific functional traits linked to ecosystem function are shared, along with patterns of abundance and distribution, in a macrobenthic community (115 taxa; 23682 individuals) sampled in 400 plots from a large intertidal area (300000 m2). We defined 26 functional groups; 85% of these contained more than 1 species and 50% more than 3 species. Most functional group (22 of 26) distributions were non-random (as identified by Moran’s I) and fell into 1 of 3 spatial patterns—gradients (n = 8 function groups), and large (n = 2) and small patches (n = 12)—that separate the functional attributes of the macrobenthic community. Only 2 functional groups exhibited low species richness and low abundance, but their widespread occurrence could provide resilience to small-scale disturbances. This spatial consideration of functional group distribution stresses the notion that resilience is likely to be scale-dependent rather than a commodity on offer across a whole system. Our findings emphasise the importance not only of within-functional group species richness but also of abundance and occurrence as a framework to investigate functional diversity and resilience of benthic seafloor communities.

KEY WORDS: Biodiversity · Ecosystem function · Functional redundancy · Functional traits · Intertidal · New Zealand · Scale-dependence · Spatial autocorrelation · Spatial variation

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Cite this article as: Greenfield BL, Kraan C, Pilditch CA, Thrush SF (2016) Mapping functional groups can provide insight into ecosystem functioning and potential resilience of intertidal sandflats. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 548:1-10.

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