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Open Access Research article

The world's richest tadpole communities show functional redundancy and low functional diversity: ecological data on Madagascar's stream-dwelling amphibian larvae

Axel Strauß1*, Erik Reeve1, Roger-Daniel Randrianiaina12, Miguel Vences1 and Julian Glos3

Author Affiliations

1 Zoological Institute, Technical University of Braunschweig, Spielmannstr. 8, 38106 Braunschweig, Germany

2 Département de Biologie Animale, Université d'Antananarivo, Antananarivo 101, Madagascar

3 Zoological Institute, University of Hamburg, Martin-Luther-King Platz 3, 20146 Hamburg, Germany

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BMC Ecology 2010, 10:12  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-10-12

Published: 12 May 2010

Abstract

Background

Functional diversity illustrates the range of ecological functions in a community. It allows revealing the appearance of functional redundancy in communities and processes of community assembly. Functional redundancy illustrates the overlap in ecological functions of community members which may be an indicator of community resilience. We evaluated patterns of species richness, functional diversity and functional redundancy on tadpole communities in rainforest streams in Madagascar. This habitat harbours the world's most species-rich stream tadpole communities which are due to their occurrence in primary habitat of particular interest for functional diversity studies.

Results

Species richness of tadpole communities is largely determined by characteristics of the larval habitat (stream structure), not by adult habitat (forest structure). Species richness is positively correlated with a size-velocity gradient of the streams, i.e. communities follow a classical species-area relationship. While widely observed for other taxa, this is an unusual pattern for anuran larvae which usually is expected to be hump-shaped. Along the species richness gradient, we quantified functional diversity of all communities considering the similarity and dissimilarity of species in 18 traits related to habitat use and foraging. Especially species-rich communities were characterised by an overlap of species function, i.e. by functional redundancy. By comparing the functional diversity of the observed communities with functional diversity of random assemblages, we found no differences at low species richness level, whereas observed species-rich communities have lower functional diversity than respective random assemblages.

Conclusions

We found functional redundancy being a feature of communities also in primary habitat, what has not been shown before using such a continuous measure. The observed species richness dependent pattern of low functional diversity indicates that communities with low species richness accumulate functional traits randomly, whereas species in species-rich communities are more similar to each other than predicted by random assemblages and therefore exhibit an accumulation of stream-specific functional traits. Beyond a certain species richness level, therefore, stream-specific environmental filters exert influence whereas interspecific competition between species does not influence trait assemblage at any species richness level.