Investigations of species richness effects on ecosystem functioning using stream-living macroinvertebrates as model organisms

Abstract: The work in this thesis deals with effects of changed species richness on process rates among stream-living macroinvertebrates. Global biodiversity is decreasing rapidly and it is poorly known what the consequences of this loss may be for ecosystems and the services they provide. Hence, it is important to investigate the potential effects of losing species. In streams, deforestation, introduction of non-native species, pollution and channelization are examples of events that may affect species richness negatively. In this thesis emphasis is on changes in species richness within functional feeding groups (FFGs) of stream-living macroinvertebrates. The FFGs used were shredding detritivores, grazers, filter feeders and predators - all of which uphold important ecological processes in streams. Along with an observational field study, species richness was manipulated in laboratory and field experiments to investigate the effects of changed species richness on process rates and thus ecosystem functioning.The results show that effects of changed species richness on process rates may be dramatic. Among the shredding detritivores there were negative effects on leaf mass loss, regardless whether fixed, random or predicted sequences of species loss was investigated. These effects could be attributed to either species richness per se or species composition. However, among the other FFGs the relationship between species richness and process rates was less consistent. In filter feeders, there was no or a negative effect of decreasing species richness while both grazers and predators showed positive effects of species loss.The results also show that the most important interactions between species in an experiment, thus potentially in a natural community, are likely to determine what the effect of species loss on process rates will be. Facilitation and niche differentiation lead to reduced process rates if species are lost, while mechanisms, such as interspecific resource or interference competition, produce the opposite effect. Furthermore, in systems with a diminishing resource, the first two mechanisms may become more important over time enhancing the effect of species loss in the long term.In conclusion, effects of species loss may be dramatically negative or positive even if lost species are classified as redundant. The effect in the short term most likely depends on which species are lost, on the original species composition and on the underlying mechanisms. Questions remaining to be answered are how important the observed effects are in more complex systems and if they are persistent over time? Future studies will tell.