Individual species provide multifaceted contributions to the stability of ecosystems

Lydia White, Nessa E. O’Connor, Qiang Yang, Mark C. Emmerson, Ian Donohue*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
173 Downloads (Pure)


Exploration of the relationship between species diversity and ecological stability has occupied a prominent place in ecological research for decades. Yet, a key component of this puzzle—the contributions of individual species to the overall stability of ecosystems—remains largely unknown. Here, we show that individual species simultaneously stabilize and destabilize ecosystems along different dimensions of stability, and also that their contributions to functional (biomass) and compositional stability are largely independent. By simulating experimentally the extinction of three consumer species (the limpet Patella, the periwinkle Littorina and the topshell Gibbula) from a coastal rocky shore, we found that the capacity to predict the combined contribution of species to stability from the sum of their individual contributions varied among stability dimensions. This implies that the nature of the diversity–stability relationship depends upon the dimension of stability under consideration, and may be additive, synergistic or antagonistic. We conclude that, although the profoundly multifaceted and context-dependent consequences of species loss pose a significant challenge, the predictability of cumulative species contributions to some dimensions of stability provide a way forward for ecologists trying to conserve ecosystems and manage their stability under global change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1594-1601
Number of pages8
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Early online date12 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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