Aim In times of biodiversity crisis, it is extremely important to understand diversity gradients. In particular, the study of the diversity of ecological functions is a key issue for the management of ecosystem integrity. Here we identify areas of low functional diversity of the native fish fauna in European drainage basins and we determine the relative importance of three underlying mechanisms: environmental filtering, geographic isolation and climatic history.
Location The European continent.
Methods Based on 14 morphological traits that are closely related to fish function (habitat and dietary niches), three independent functional diversity indices [functional richness (FR), functional evenness (FE), functional divergence (FD)] were calculated for 128 European drainage basins with a total of 230 fish species. The indices were standardized for species richness using null models. The patterns of the standardized indices are described and three potentially underlying mechanisms are tested using variance partitioning and multi-linear regression models.
Results FR and FD were highest in eastern European drainage basins and in Great Britain and lowest in the Mediterranean. FE patterns were less pronounced. All observed patterns were mainly governed by geographic isolation and present environmental conditions. Within the environmental conditions, average annual temperature and precipitation were good predictors for functional diversity. The role of habitat diversity and size was negligible.
Main conclusions Geographic isolation coupled with harsh environmental conditions such as extreme temperatures and low precipitation, as in Mediterranean regions, can lead to low FR and FD. This can be explained by extinction that could not be compensated by re-colonization and high speciation. Due to their high functional redundancy, communities in these areas might better withstand further species extinctions on a small scale. Over the short term, however, their often extremely low FR suggests a less flexible functioning that can hinder their ability to withstand today's rapid environmental and anthropogenic threats.