Predicting resilience of ecosystem functioning from co-varying species' responses to environmental change

Greenwell Matthew P.
Brereton Tom
Day John C.
Roy David B.
Oliver Tom H.

Abstract Understanding how environmental change affects ecosystem function delivery is of primary importance for fundamental and applied ecology. Current approaches focus on single environmental driver effects on communities, mediated by individual response traits. Data limitations present constraints in scaling up this approach to predict the impacts of multivariate environmental change on ecosystem functioning. We present a more holistic approach to determine ecosystem function resilience, using long-term monitoring data to analyze the aggregate impact of multiple historic environmental drivers on species' population dynamics. By assessing covariation in population dynamics between pairs of species, we identify which species respond most synchronously to environmental change and allocate species into response guilds. We then use production functions combining trait data to estimate the relative roles of species to ecosystem functions. We quantify the correlation between response guilds and production functions, assessing the resilience of ecosystem functioning to environmental change, with asynchronous dynamics of species in the same functional guild expected to lead to more stable ecosystem functioning. Testing this method using data for butterflies collected over four decades in the United Kingdom, we find three ecosystem functions (resource provisioning, wildflower pollination, and aesthetic cultural value) appear relatively robust, with functionally important species dispersed across response guilds, suggesting more stable ecosystem functioning. Additionally, by relating genetic distances to response guilds we assess the heritability of responses to environmental change. Our results suggest it may be feasible to infer population responses of butterflies to environmental change based on phylogeny - a useful insight for conservation management of rare species with limited population monitoring data. Our approach holds promise for overcoming the impasse in predicting the responses of ecosystem functions to environmental change. Quantifying co-varying species' responses to multivariate environmental change should enable us to significantly advance our predictions of ecosystem function resilience and enable proactive ecosystem management.

Year of Publication
Ecology and Evolution
Number of Pages
Date Published
Type of Article
ISBN Number