- Environmental Science
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Environmental catastrophes may precipitate local species extinctions, hence altering community composition (i.e., β-diversity) at the regional scale. Assessments of the impacts of such disturbance may be hindered by the availability of sufficiently high-quality before/after data. However, simulations can provide key insights into the nature of the biodiversity change involved, even when data are limited. Using a simulation approach, we asked how disturbances might have affected regional patterns of β-diversity, following the ‘Mariana disaster’ at the Bento Rodrigues dam in the Doce River Basin. To do this we evaluated the possible consequences of different levels of local species extinctions on the regional taxonomic and functional β-diversity. Our analysis drew on information from all six neighbouring river basins and contrasted the β-diversity prior to the disaster with four hypothetical scenarios of species removal from the Doce Basin of 25, 50, 75, and 100%. We found that local species extinction increases regional taxonomic β-diversity as a result of a higher contribution of nestedness (from 13% to 19%). Functional β-diversity also increases, but with an even greater contribution of nestedness (67–81%). Our results suggest that, if the disaster prompted any extinction, this was likely to lead to altered patterns of regional β-diversity by making assemblages taxonomically more distinct but functionally more similar. These changes result from the loss of unique species and, in particular, their functional traits. Our work highlights the utility of simulation approaches in environmental impact assessment and conservation management in data-poor circumstances.