1. Studies on biodiversity and ecosystem function require considering metrics for accurately describing the functional diversity of communities. The number of taxa (richness) is commonly used to characterise biological diversity. The disadvantage of richness as a measure of biological diversity is that all taxa are taken into account on an equal basis regardless of their abundance, their biological characteristics or their function in the ecosystem.
2. To circumvent this problem, we applied a recently described measure of biological diversity that incorporates dissimilarities among taxa. Dissimilarities were defined from biological traits (e.g. life history, morphology, physiology and behaviour) of stream invertebrate taxa and the resulting biological diversity index was considered as a surrogate for functional diversity.
3. As sampling effort is known to affect the number of taxa collected within a reach, we investigated how change in functional diversity is affected by sampling effort. We used stream invertebrate community data from three large European rivers to model accumulation curves and to assess the number of samples required to estimate (i.e. closeness to the maximal value) functional diversity and genera richness. We further evaluated the precision of estimates (i.e. similarity of temporal or spatial replicates) of the total functional diversity.
4. As expected, richness estimates were strongly dependent on sampling effort, and 10 replicate samples were found to underestimate actual richness. Moreover, richness estimates showed much variation with season and location. In contrast, functional diversity had greater accuracy with less sampling effort and the precision of the estimates was higher than richness both across sampling occasions and sampling reaches. These results are further arguments towards conducting research on the design of a biomonitoring tool based on biological traits.