A potential role for rare species in ecosystem dynamics

Scientific Reports
Torbjörn SäterbergBo Ebenman

Abstract

The ecological importance of common species for many ecosystem processes and functions is unquestionably due to their high abundance. Yet, the importance of rare species is much less understood. Here we take a theoretical approach, exposing dynamical models of ecological networks to small perturbations, to explore the dynamical importance of rare and common species. We find that both species types contribute to the recovery of communities following generic perturbations (i.e. perturbations affecting all species). Yet, when perturbations are selective (i.e. affects only one species), perturbations to rare species have the most pronounced effect on community stability. We show that this is due to the strong indirect effects induced by perturbations to rare species. Because indirect effects typically set in at longer timescales, our results indicate that the importance of rare species may be easily overlooked and thus underrated. Hence, our study provides a potential ecological motive for the management and protection of rare species.

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