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Research article2018Peer reviewedOpen access

Dung beetles as drivers of ecosystem multifunctionality: Are response and effect traits interwoven?

Piccini, Irene; Nervo, Beatrice; Forshage, Mattias; Celi, Luisella; Palestrini, Claudia; Rolando, Antonio; Roslin, Tomas


Rapid biodiversity loss has emphasized the need to understand how biodiversity affects the provisioning of ecological functions. Of particular interest are species and communities with versatile impacts on multiple parts of the environment, linking processes in the biosphere, lithosphere, and atmosphere to human interests in the anthroposphere (in this case, cattle farming). In this study, we examine the role of a specific group of insects beetles feeding on cattle dung - on multiple ecological functions spanning these spheres (dung removal, soil nutrient content and greenhouse gas emissions). We ask whether the same traits which make species prone to extinction (i.e. response traits) may also affect their functional efficiency (as effect traits). To establish the link between response and effect traits, we first evaluated whether two traits (body mass and nesting strategy, the latter categorized as tunnelers or dwellers) affected the probability of a species being threatened. We then tested for a relationship between these traits and ecosystem functioning. Across Scandinavian dung beetle species, 75% of tunnelers and 30% of dwellers are classified as threatened. Hence, nesting strategy significantly affects the probability of a species being threatened, and constitutes a response trait. Effect traits varied with the ecological function investigated: density-specific dung removal was influenced by both nesting strategy and body mass, whereas methane emissions varied with body mass and nutrient recycling with nesting strategy. Our findings suggest that among Scandinavian dung beetles, nesting strategy is both a response and an effect trait, with tunnelers being more efficient in providing several ecological functions and also being more sensitive to extinction. Consequently, functionally important tunneler species have suffered disproportionate declines, and species not threatened today may be at risk of becoming so in the near future. This linkage between effect and response traits aggravates the consequences of ongoing biodiversity loss. (c) 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Body mass; Dung removal; Endangered species; GHG emissions; Nesting strategy; Soil nutrient content

Published in

Science of the Total Environment
2018, Volume: 616-617, pages: 1440-1448

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    • Sustainable Development Goals

      SDG15 Life on land

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