Aim Which community metrics should be used to reflect community response to large-scale habitat alterations is unclear. Here, we assess what and how community changes should be measured to accurately track community responses to large-scale disturbance in space and/or time.
Method We first developed a simulation model to examine temporal changes in the species composition of large-scale metacommunities. Using this model, we assessed how species richness, Shannon index, trends of particular subset of species or community indices of habitat specialization were influenced by different disturbance scenarios, and whether these indices were biased by imperfect detectability. We further used more than 1000 empirical bird communities from the French Breeding Bird Survey recently exposed to disturbances of various intensities as a case study.
Results Our simulation and empirical results both demonstrate that species richness and diversity measures can show confusing trends and even provide misleading messages of communities’ fate. In contrast, reflecting the composition of the community in terms of habitat specialist and generalist species was more robust and powerful to reflect disturbance effects.
Main conclusions We highlight the weakness of using community metrics that fail to incorporate ecological difference among species when summarizing community-level trends in disturbed landscapes.