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Using functional groups to investigate community response to environmental changes: two grassland case studies


Dr Winfried Voigt, tel. +49 3641 949414, fax +49 3641 949402, e-mail:


Functional groups (FG) are an useful generalization to investigate environmental change effects on biotic communities. Assigning species to FGs is a contextual task and carries an arbitrary element, regardless of whether the grouping is obtained a priori or by sophisticated numerical methods. Using two grassland community case studies, we show that even simple FG allocation based on growth form, architecture and longevity (plants and mosses), or foraging characteristics (above-ground invertebrates) can be useful to increase our understanding of community processes. For example, the sensitivity of organisms to climate change increases with trophic rank and is higher in disturbed than in undisturbed communities. Complexity of interaction webs (in terms of web connectance), however, is larger in undisturbed than in disturbed communities. A significant and important relationship is likely to exist between anthropogenic disturbances, community complexity and the ecosystem effects of climate change. Trophic interactions may be disrupted much easier by climate changes in disturbed than in undisturbed communities where complexity may be buffering these effects.

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