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Baattrup-Pedersen A.,University of Aarhus | Gothe E.,University of Aarhus | Larsen S.E.,University of Aarhus | O'Hare M.,Center for Ecology and Hydrology Bush Estate Penicuik Midlothian 26 0 UK | And 2 more authors.
Journal of Applied Ecology | Year: 2015

Previous studies investigating community-level relationships between plant functional trait characteristics and stream environmental characteristics remain scarce. Here, we used community-weighted means to identify how plant traits link to lowland stream typology and how agricultural intensity in the catchment affects trait composition. We analysed plant trait characteristics in 772 European lowland streams to test the following two hypotheses: (i) trait characteristics differ between plant communities in small and medium-sized streams, reflecting adaptations to different habitat characteristics, and (ii) trait characteristics vary with the intensity of agricultural land use in the stream catchment, mediated either directly by an increase in productive species or indirectly by an increase in species that efficiently intercept and utilize light. We found that the communities in small streams were characterized by a higher abundance of light-demanding species growing from single apical meristems, reproducing by seeds and rooted to the bottom with floating and/or heterophyllous leaves, whereas the community in medium-sized streams was characterized by a higher abundance of productive species growing from multi-apical and basal growth meristems forming large canopies. We also found indications that community trait characteristics were affected by eutrophication. We did not find enhanced abundance of productive species with an increasing proportion of agriculture in the catchments. Instead, we found an increase in the abundance of species growing from apical and multi-apical growth meristems as well as in the abundance of species tolerant of low light availability. The increase in the abundance of species possessing these traits likely reflects different strategies to obtain greater efficiency in light interception and utilization in nutrient-enriched environments. Synthesis and applications. Our findings challenge the general assumption of the EU Water Framework Directive compliant assessment systems that plant community patterns in streams reflect the nutrient preference of the community. Instead, light availability and the ability to improve interception and utilization appeared to be of key importance for community composition in agricultural lowland streams. We therefore suggest moving from existing approaches building on species-specific preference values for nutrients to determine the level of nutrient impairment to trait-based approaches that provide insight into the biological mechanisms underlying the changes. We recommend that existing systems are critically appraised in the context of the findings of this study. © 2015 British Ecological Society. Source

Burthe S.J.,Center for Ecology and Hydrology Bush Estate Penicuik Midlothian 26 0 UK | Henrys P.A.,Center for Ecology and Hydrology Lancaster Environment Center Library Avenue Bailrigg Lancaster 1 4 | Mackay E.B.,Center for Ecology and Hydrology Lancaster Environment Center Library Avenue Bailrigg Lancaster 1 4 | Spears B.M.,Center for Ecology and Hydrology Bush Estate Penicuik Midlothian 26 0 UK | And 12 more authors.
Journal of Applied Ecology | Year: 2015

Summary: Anthropogenic pressures, including climate change, are causing nonlinear changes in ecosystems globally. The development of reliable early warning indicators (EWIs) to predict these changes is vital for the adaptive management of ecosystems and the protection of biodiversity, natural capital and ecosystem services. Increased variance and autocorrelation are potential early warning indicators and can be readily estimated from ecological time series. Here, we undertook a comprehensive test of the consistency between early warning indicators and nonlinear abundance change across species, trophic levels and ecosystem types. We tested whether long-term abundance time series of 55 taxa (126 data sets) across multiple trophic levels in marine and freshwater ecosystems showed (i) significant nonlinear change in abundance 'turning points' and (ii) significant increases in variance and autocorrelation ('early warning indicators'). For each data set, we then quantified the prevalence of three cases: true positives (early warning indicators and associated turning point), false negatives (turning point but no associated early warning indicators) and false positives (early warning indicators but no turning point). True positives were rare, representing only 9% (16 of 170) of cases using variance, and 13% (19 of 152) of cases using autocorrelation. False positives were more prevalent than false negatives (53% vs. 38% for variance; 47% vs. 40% for autocorrelation). False results were found in every decade and across all trophic levels and ecosystems. Time series that contained true positives were uncommon (8% for variance; 6% for autocorrelation), with all but one time series also containing false classifications. Coherence between the types of early warning indicators was generally low with 43% of time series categorized differently based on variance compared to autocorrelation. Synthesis and applications. Conservation management requires effective early warnings of ecosystem change using readily available data, and variance and autocorrelation in abundance data have been suggested as candidates. However, our study shows that they consistently fail to predict nonlinear change. For early warning indicators to be effective tools for preventative management of ecosystem change, we recommend that multivariate approaches of a suite of potential indicators are adopted, incorporating analyses of anthropogenic drivers and process-based understanding. © 2015 British Ecological Society. Source

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