- Non-native species are now common in community assemblages, but the influence of multiple introductions on ecosystem functioning remains poorly understood. In highly invaded systems, one promising approach is to use functional traits to scale measured individuals’ effects on ecosystem function up to the community level. This approach assumes that functional traits provide a common currency among species to relate individuals to ecosystem functioning.
- The goals of this study were to (i) test whether the relationship between body size and ecosystem functioning (per capita nutrient recycling) was best described by general or species-specific scaling models; (ii) relate community structure (total biomass, average body size, non-native dominance) to aggregated, community-level nutrient recycling rates and ratios; and (iii) determine whether conclusions regarding the relationships between community structure and aggregate ecosystem functioning differed between species-specific and general scaling approaches.
- By combining experimental incubations and field surveys, we compare consumer-mediated nutrient recycling of fish communities along a non-native dominance gradient in the Verde River watershed of central Arizona, USA. Data from ˜340 field-sampled freshwater fish demonstrated support for general allometric relationships predicted by the metabolic theory of ecology (NH4-N scaling coefficient = 0.72 [0.64–0.80]; PO4-P = 0.67 [0.47–0.86]). However, the best-fit models for N and P included species-specific random effects for both allometric slopes and intercepts.
- According to species-specific models, stream fish communities recycled 1–12 mmol NH4-N/hr (median = 2.8 mmol/hr) and 0.02–0.74 mmol PO4-P/hr (median = 0.07 mmol/hr) at N:P ratios between 13.3 and 83.5 (median = 28.8). General models generated similar estimates for NH4-N recycling but less accurate estimates for PO4-P. Stochastic simulations that incorporated error around allometric parameter estimates led to qualitatively similar but larger differences between general and species-specific results.
- Community structure influenced aggregate nutrient recycling, but specific conclusions depended on the scaling approach. Total biomass explained much of the among-community variation in aggregate NH4-N and PO4-P for both model types, whereas non-native dominance alone best predicted variation in aggregate N:P. Surprisingly, species-specific and general models both reached significant yet quantitatively opposing conclusions regarding the relationship between N:P supply and non-native dominance.
- Study results indicate that shifting fish community structure can substantially alter ecosystem functioning in this river system. However, some inferred relationships between community structure and aggregate nutrient recycling varied depending on whether general or species-specific scaling approaches were taken. Although trait-based approaches to link environmental change, community structure and ecosystem function hold much promise, it will be important to consider when species-specific versus general models are necessary to scale from individuals to ecosystems.