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Assemblage Time Series Reveal Biodiversity Change but Not Systematic Loss

Science  18 Apr 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6181, pp. 296-299
DOI: 10.1126/science.1248484

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Changing Assemblages

Although the rate of species extinction has increased markedly as a result of human activity across the biosphere, conservation has focused on endangered species rather than on shifts in assemblages. Dornelas et al. (p. 296; see the Perspective by Pandolfi and Lovelock), using an extensive set of biodiversity time series of species occurrences in both marine and terrestrial habitats from the past 150 years, find species turnover above expected but do not find evidence of systematic biodiversity loss. This result could be caused by homogenization of species assemblages by invasive species, shifting distributions induced by climate change, and asynchronous change across the planet. All of which indicates that it is time to review conservation priorities.

Abstract

The extent to which biodiversity change in local assemblages contributes to global biodiversity loss is poorly understood. We analyzed 100 time series from biomes across Earth to ask how diversity within assemblages is changing through time. We quantified patterns of temporal α diversity, measured as change in local diversity, and temporal β diversity, measured as change in community composition. Contrary to our expectations, we did not detect systematic loss of α diversity. However, community composition changed systematically through time, in excess of predictions from null models. Heterogeneous rates of environmental change, species range shifts associated with climate change, and biotic homogenization may explain the different patterns of temporal α and β diversity. Monitoring and understanding change in species composition should be a conservation priority.

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