Rare Species and Ecosystem Functioning

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The role of diversity in the maintenance of ecosystems has been studied widely in the past decade. By correlating richness and diversity with basic ecosystem processes, these investigations lend support to the hypothesis that species diversity significantly influences ecosystem functioning and, in turn, provide support for the conservation of biodiversity. Nonetheless, the majority of these investigations demonstrate that conservation of a relatively small number of generally dominant species is sufficient to maintain most processes. Indeed, there is remarkably little evidence to support the contention that less common species, those likely of highest conservation concern, are important in the maintenance of ecosystem functioning. Here we summarize studies, most employing alternative methodological strategies, wherein less common and rare species are demonstrated to make significant contributions to ecosystem functioning. Evidence exists among studies of keystone species, aggregate effects of less common species, and species turnover. Our findings suggest that (1) less common species can make significant ecosystem contributions; (2) further investigation into the effects of rare and less common species on ecosystem maintenance is sorely needed; (3) further investigation should embrace a variety of approaches; and (4) until further research is conducted a prudent conservation approach is warranted wherein the contribution of less common species to ecosystem functioning is assumed.





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Conservation Biology

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