Including intraspecific variability in functional diversity

Marcus V. Cianciaruso, Marco A. Batalha, K. J. Gaston, Owen L. Petchey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

150 Citations (Scopus)


Linking species and ecosystems often relies on approaches that consider how the traits exhibited by species affect ecosystem processes. One method is to estimate functional diversity (FD) based on the dispersion of species in functional trait space. Individuals within a species also differ, however, and an unresolved challenge is how to include such intraspecific variability in a measure of functional diversity. Our solution is to extend an existing measure to variation among individuals within species. Here, simulations demonstrate how the new measure behaves relative to one that does not include individual variation. Individual-level FD was less well associated with species richness than species-level FD in a single trait dimension, because species differed in their intraspecific variation. However, in multiple trait dimensions, there was a strong association between individual-and species-level FD and richness, because many traits result in a tight relationship between functional diversity and species richness. The correlation between the two FD measures weakened as the amount of intraspecific variability increased. Analyzing natural plant communities we found no relationship between species richness and functional diversity. In these analyses, we did not have to specify the source of intraspecific variation. In fact, the variation was only among individuals. The measure can, however, include differences in the amount of intraspecific variation at different sites, as we demonstrate. Including intraspecific variation should allow a more complete understanding of the processes that link individuals and ecosystems and provide better predictions about the consequences of extinctions for ecosystem processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-89
Number of pages9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Complementarity
  • Functional classification
  • Phenotypic diversity
  • Plasticity
  • Species richness
  • Traits

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