Guilds or functional groups: does it matter?


  • Jacques Blondel

J. Blondel, CEFE-CNRS, F-34293 Montpellier cedex 5, France (


Although most researchers use the terms “guild” and “functional group” more or less synonymously, these two concepts bear different meanings. The guild concept refers primarily to the mechanisms of resource sharing by species in a competitive context whereas the functional groups concept is concerned with how a resource or any other ecological component is processed by different species to provide a specific ecosystem service or function. In many cases but not necessarily all, the two concepts are the two “faces” or “sides” of the same coin: the sharing by species of a similar resource is the guild facet (structural), while the ecosystem processes these species eventually perform through resource exploitation is the functional group facet. The two concepts differ in that competitive relationships within groups of species are not the focus of the functional group approach, exactly as processes or functions are not the focus of the guild approach. A group of species can be considered either as a guild or a functional group depending on the question addressed. Guild and functional group membership is independent of phylogenetic relationships but because species tend to share similar life history traits and adaptations through common evolutionary history, guild and functional group associates are often closely related. The concept of guild has had broader application in animal studies than in plant studies, whereas the reverse is true for the concept of functional group. Recent methodological advances to objectively partition species into guilds and functional groups, taking into consideration the most relevant characters or traits for delineating them, provide the means to construct an operational framework for making in situ and ex situ experiments that are urgently needed for a better understanding of the role of species in ecosystem functioning, especially in relation to global change concerns.