A negative consequence of biodiversity loss is reduced rates of ecosystem functions. Phylogenetic-based biodiversity indices have been claimed to provide more accurate predictions of ecosystem functioning than species diversity alone. This approach assumes that the most relevant traits for ecosystem functioning present a phylogenetic signal. Yet, traits-mediating niche partitioning and resource uptake efficiency in animals can be labile. To assess the relative power of a key trait (body size) and phylogeny to predict zooplankton top-down control on phytoplankton, we manipulated trait and phylogenetic distances independently in microcosms while holding species richness constant. We found that body size provided strong predictions of top-down control. In contrast, phylogeny was a poor predictor of grazing rates. Size-related grazing efficiency asymmetry was mechanistically more important than niche differences in mediating ecosystem function in our experimental settings. Our study demonstrates a strong link between a single functional trait (i.e. body size) in zooplankton and trophic interactions, and urges for a cautionary use of phylogenetic information and taxonomic diversity as substitutes for trait information to predict and understand ecosystem functions.
- Received March 3, 2016.
- Accepted March 21, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.