Biodiversity change is uncoupled from species richness trends: Consequences for conservation and monitoring

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Journal of Applied Ecology, ISSN: 0021-8901, Vol: 55, Issue: 1, Page: 169-184

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Helmut Hillebrand; Bernd Blasius; Elizabeth T. Borer; Jonathan M. Chase; John A. Downing; Britas Klemens Eriksson; Christopher T. Filstrup; W. Stanley Harpole; Dorothee Hodapp; Stefano Larsen; Aleksandra M. Lewandowska; Eric W. Seabloom; Dedmer B. Van de Waal; Alexey B. Ryabov; Marc Cadotte Show More Hide
Environmental Science
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Global concern about human impact on biological diversity has triggered an intense research agenda on drivers and consequences of biodiversity change in parallel with international policy seeking to conserve biodiversity and associated ecosystem functions. Quantifying the trends in biodiversity is far from trivial, however, as recently documented by meta-analyses, which report little if any net change in local species richness through time. Here, we summarise several limitations of species richness as a metric of biodiversity change and show that the expectation of directional species richness trends under changing conditions is invalid. Instead, we illustrate how a set of species turnover indices provide more information content regarding temporal trends in biodiversity, as they reflect how dominance and identity shift in communities over time. We apply these metrics to three monitoring datasets representing different ecosystem types. In all datasets, nearly complete species turnover occurred, but this was disconnected from any species richness trends. Instead, turnover was strongly influenced by changes in species presence (identities) and dominance (abundances). We further show that these metrics can detect phases of strong compositional shifts in monitoring data and thus identify a different aspect of biodiversity change decoupled from species richness. Synthesis and applications: Temporal trends in species richness are insufficient to capture key changes in biodiversity in changing environments. In fact, reductions in environmental quality can lead to transient increases in species richness if immigration or extinction has different temporal dynamics. Thus, biodiversity monitoring programmes need to go beyond analyses of trends in richness in favour of more meaningful assessments of biodiversity change.