Ecosystem function and species loss – a microcosm study

Authors


Fiona R. Scarff, School of Biological Sciences, Murdoch University, Murdoch WA 6150, Australia. E-mail: fscarff@central.murdoch.edu.au

Abstract

There are too many kinds of organisms to be able to study and manage each, yet the loss of a single species can sometimes unravel an ecosystem. Such `fusewire species'– critical in the same sense that an electrical fuse can cut out a whole circuit – would be a rewarding focus for research and management effort. However, this approach can only be effective if these `fusewires' represent but a small proportion of the number of species in the system.

Aim

To demonstrate methods for measuring what proportion of the species in a system are critical to ecosystem function.

Methods

The prevalence of fusewire species was measured in manipulative experiments on an aquatic microcosm.

Results

No single genus deletion caused changes in key characteristics of the system.

Main conclusions

Comparison of these results with other published studies shows that the proportion of critical fusewire species varies amongst different ecosystems. The oxidation pond microcosms were shown to contain no single species indispensable to system function. They appear to be ill-suited to a management strategy which focuses on priority eukaryote species. However, a single study provides no evidence that this result is general or even typical of other kinds of ecosystems; it is presented here as an empirical model. Other methods of investigation are available; they are less experimentally rigorous but more practical. These could provide important guidance in planning an approach to management in a particular ecosystem.

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