Comparing species richness, functional diversity and functional composition of waterbird communities along environmental gradients in the neotropics.

Research paper by Bia de B Arruda Almeida, Andy J AJ Green, Esther E Sebastián-González, Luiz L Dos Anjos

Indexed on: 22 Jul '18Published on: 22 Jul '18Published in: PloS one


Waterbirds have a major functional role in wetlands, and understanding how functional traits of waterbirds depend on environmental characteristics can facilitate management of ecosystems and their services. We investigate how the waterbird community in a Neotropical river-floodplain system responds to environmental gradients, identifying how they affect waterbird species richness, functional diversity (measured as functional dispersion) and functional composition (specific functional traits). We sampled 22 lakes in the Upper Paraná floodplain system in southern Brazil, and modelled avian functional diversity and species richness as a function of environmental variables. Then we used a unified RLQ and fourth-corner analysis to evaluate environment-trait relationships. Waterbird species richness and functional diversity varied according to different environmental variables. Lake area and diversity of aquatic vegetation were associated with avian species richness, while relative abundance of grass and emergent macrophytes and mean and variation of depth were related to functional diversity. Furthermore, changes in functional diversity seemed to be mainly driven by presence of species that depend on perches for foraging (e.g. kingfishers, cormorants, and kites), whose presence was mainly associated with deep water and emergent macrophytes. Nevertheless, changes in functional diversity and functional composition did not depend on exactly the same set of environmental variables, suggesting that trait combinations (e.g. below surface feeders who feed on fish), not only specific traits, are important drivers of the variation in functional diversity between lakes. Given the observed differences in responses of species richness and functional diversity, both these diversity metrics should be used as complementary tools in ecosystem management. Furthermore, our results show that functional diversity and composition are partially coupled, suggesting that although functional diversity is influenced by the environmental filtering of particular traits, it also reflects other ecological mechanisms (e.g. competitive interactions among species).