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The multidimensionality of the niche reveals functional diversity changes in benthic marine biotas across geological time

Authors

  • Sébastien Villéger,

    Corresponding author
    1. Laboratoire ECOSYM, UMR 5119 CNRS-UM2-IRD-IFREMER, Place Eugène Bataillon, 34095 Montpellier, France
    2. CNRS, UPS, ENFA, UMR5174 EDB (Laboratoire Évolution et Diversité Biologique), 118 route de Narbonne, F-31062 Toulouse, France
    3. Université de Toulouse, UMR5174 EDB, F-31062 Toulouse, France
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  • Philip M. Novack-Gottshall,

    1. Department of Biological Science, Benedictine University, Lisle, IL 60532, USA
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  • David Mouillot

    1. Laboratoire ECOSYM, UMR 5119 CNRS-UM2-IRD-IFREMER, Place Eugène Bataillon, 34095 Montpellier, France
    2. ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4811, Australia
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E-mail:villeger@cict.fr

Abstract

Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 561–568

Abstract

Despite growing attention on the influence of functional diversity changes on ecosystem functioning, a palaeoecological perspective on the long-term dynamic of functional diversity, including mass extinction crises, is still lacking. Here, using a novel multidimensional functional framework and comprehensive null-models, we compare the functional structure of Cambrian, Silurian and modern benthic marine biotas. We demonstrate that, after controlling for increases in taxonomic diversity, functional richness increased incrementally between each time interval with benthic taxa filling progressively more functional space, combined with a significant functional dissimilarity between periods. The modern benthic biota functionally overlaps with fossil biotas but some modern taxa, especially large predators, have new trait combinations that may allow more functions to be performed. From a methodological perspective, these results illustrate the benefits of using multidimensional instead of lower dimensional functional frameworks when studying changes in functional diversity over space and time.

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