Two approaches using traits to assess ecological resilience: A case study on earthworm communities

Lange, H.J. de; Kramer, K.; Faber, J.H.


The relation between biological diversity and ecosystem functioning is a central theme in ecology. Ecological traits of species are often regarded as a link between structure and function, and trait distributions in a community may change in response to environmental stressors. Likewise, resilience in a community may be derived from the diversity in traits and trait values relevant to a particular stressor. We combine two approaches to test this: a novel trait frequency analysis and a multivariate ordination approach. The two methods are applied on a case study of an earthworm community in a frequently flooded floodplain in the Netherlands. Periodic flooding in floodplains restricts population growth and recolonization of earthworms. The strategies employed by different earthworm species for coping with this stress can be described by a combination of ecological traits. From the literature we compiled 10 ecological traits for the earthworm species encountered along an inundation gradient in the Duursche Waarden floodplain area flanking the river IJssel. Trait frequency analysis showed a greater diversity at low elevation sites of traits considered to be associated to flood tolerance, suggesting greater community resilience to flooding. The ordination analysis using trait composition provided information on which trait classes in the community were related with the inundation stress. Results from both analyses showed that important traits in species to deal with flooding are active dispersal, high hydrophily, diapause and parthenogenetic reproduction. Thus, a further understanding of community resilience was gained by combining traditional ordination analysis with trait diversity analysis