Impacts of multiple stressors on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: the role of species co-tolerance


  • Rolf D. Vinebrooke,

  • Kathryn L. Cottingham,

  • Jon Norberg, Marten Scheffer,

  • Stanley I. Dodson,

  • Stephen C. Maberly,

  • Ulrich Sommer

R. D. Vinebrooke, Dept of Biological Sciences, Univ. of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, T6G 2E9 ( – K. L. Cottingham, Dept of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA. – J. Norberg, Dept of Systems Ecology, Stockholm Univ., SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden. – M. Scheffer, Group of Aquatic Ecology, NL-6700 DD Wageningen, The Netherlands. – S. I. Dodson, Dept of Zoology, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706, USA. – S. C. Maberly, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Windermere, Far Sawrey, Ambleside, Cumbria, UK, LA22 0LP. – U. Sommer, Institut für Meereskunde, Kiel, Germany.


Ecosystem resistance to a single stressor relies on tolerant species that can compensate for sensitive competitors and maintain ecosystem processes, such as primary production. We hypothesize that resistance to additional stressors depends increasingly on species tolerances being positively correlated (i.e. positive species co-tolerance). Initial exposure to a stressor combined with positive species co-tolerance should reduce the impacts of other stressors, which we term stress-induced community tolerance. In contrast, negative species co-tolerance is expected to result in additional stressors having pronounced additive or synergistic impacts on biologically impoverished functional groups, which we term stress-induced community sensitivity. Therefore, the sign and strength of the correlation between species sensitivities to multiple stressors must be considered when predicting the impacts of global change on ecosystem functioning as mediated by changes in biodiversity.