Oliveira, A.C.P., Nunes, A., Oliveira, M.A., Garcia Rodrigues, R. & Branquinho, C. (2022) How do taxonomic and functional diversity metrics change along an aridity gradient in a Tropical dry forest?Frontiers in Plant Science, 13, 923219. DOI:10.3389/fpls.2022.923219 (IF2021 6,627; Q1 Plant Sciences)
Ecological indicators based on biodiversity metrics are valuable and cost-effective tools to quantify, track and understand the effects of climate change on ecosystems. Studying changes in these indicators along climatic gradients in space is a common approach to infer about potential impacts of climate change over time, overcoming the limitations of lack of sufficiently long time-series data. Here, we studied the response of complementary biodiversity metrics in plants: taxonomic diversity (species richness and Simpson index) and functional diversity (diversity and redundancy) in 113 sampling sites along a spatial aridity gradient (from 0.27 to 0.69 of aridity index-AI) of 700 km in a Tropical dry forest. We found different responses of taxonomic and functional diversity metrics to aridity. Species diversity showed a hump-shaped curve peaking at intermediate levels of aridity between 0.38 and 0.52 AI as an ecotone, probably because it is where most species, from both drier and more mesic environments, still find conditions to co-exist. Functional diversity showed a positive linear relation with increasing aridity, suggesting higher aridity favors drought-adapted species with diverse functional traits. In contrast, redundancy showed a negative linear relation with increasing aridity, indicating that drier sites have few species sharing the same functional traits and resource acquisition strategies. Thus, despite the increase in functional diversity toward drier sites, these communities are less resilient since they are composed of a small number of plant species with unique functions, increasing the chances that the loss of one of such “key species” could lead to the loss of key ecosystem functions. These findings show that the integration of complementary taxonomic and functional diversity metrics, beyond the individual response of each one, is essential for reliably tracking the impacts of climate change on ecosystems. This work also provides support to the use of these biodiversity metrics as ecological indicators of the potential impact of climate change on drylands over time.