Predicting the Impacts of Anthropogenic Disturbances on Sensitive Species Using Trait-Based Analysis

Freshwater ecosystems in tropical oceanic islands are highly vulnerable to species loss from human disturbances, such as deforestation and introduced exotic species. A key challenge for designing appropriate species conservation measures is measuring the impact of multiple disturbances.

Most conservation measures group species by taxonomic ranking to predict their response to disturbances. But, in a recent study in Freshwater Biology, scientists with the SNAPP Ridges to Reef Fisheries working group propose a better predictor is grouping species by similar functional traits, such as habitat preference and diet.

This study assessed native riverine fish in the Fiji archipelago and their response to three common disturbances: deforestation, overhanging culverts, and presence of cichlids, an introduced fish. Their findings revealed that trait-based groupings showed more consistent responses to disturbances across spatial and temporal scales than taxonomic groupings. In addition, trait-based groupings were more sensitive detectors of environmental responses and more likely to predict species losses from multiple disturbances. The study provides a method for estimating the consistency of species’ responses to disturbances and can help managers identify the most effective actions for conserving sensitive species.


Impact of anthropogenic disturbances on a diverse riverine fish assemblage in Fiji predicted by functional traits
Lin H-Y, Jupiter SD, Jenkins AP, Brown CJ.
Freshwater Biology, June 2017, doi: 10.1111/fwb.12955


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Posted on June 20, 2017