Rigorous documentation of spatial heterogeneity (β-diversity) in present-day and preindustrial ecosystems is required to assess how marine communities respond to environmental and anthropogenic drivers. However, the overwhelming majority of contemporary and palaeontological assessments have centred on single higher taxa. To evaluate the validity of single taxa as community surrogates and palaeontological proxies, we compared macrobenthic communities and sympatric death assemblages at 52 localities in Onslow Bay (NC, USA). Compositional heterogeneity did not differ significantly across datasets based on live molluscs, live non-molluscs, and all live organisms. Death assemblages were less heterogeneous spatially, likely reflecting homogenization by time-averaging. Nevertheless, live and dead datasets were greater than 80% congruent in pairwise comparisons to the literature estimates of β-diversity in other marine ecosystems, yielded concordant bathymetric gradients, and produced nearly identical ordinations consistently delineating habitats. Congruent estimates from molluscs and non-molluscs suggest that single groups can serve as reliable community proxies. High spatial fidelity of death assemblages supports the emerging paradigm of Conservation Palaeobiology. Integrated analyses of ecological and palaeontological data based on surrogate taxa can quantify anthropogenic changes in marine ecosystems and advance our understanding of spatial and temporal aspects of biodiversity.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3691744.
- Received January 8, 2017.
- Accepted February 6, 2017.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.