The Role of Key Species

What roles do certain key species play

in shaping their environment?

Traditionally, the focus for conservationists have been on what species that are present in an ecosystem. But ecology is moving on from counting species to accounting for species. Some species play a very powerful role in the ecosystem.

The function that a certain species has can tell us more about the ecosystem than knowing which species that are present. This approach is called functional diversity and it is not just a theoretical idea rather it can play an important role in shaping conservation programs to ensure that we are enhancing biodiversity and preserving or restoring ecosystems.

Yet, our understanding which roles various species play is limited. But it is vital that we enhance our knowledge since ecosystem resilience is important both for the conservation of biodiversity but also for ensuring that services that the ecosystem provides are maintained.

Knowing which species that are present in an ecosystem could be compared to knowing which parts of a car are present. Functional trait ecology is a think dive into exploring how the parts come together to form a natural environment that runs as smoothly like a well-tuned car.

We need to find ways to determine what needs to be protected most urgently. In an ideal world, we would have time and the resources to save and protect everything. But we often need to make a choice, and the smarter this choice is the better chance we have of saving and protecting not only the most important species but also protecting other species that rely on this species for various reasons. Parrotfish and surgeonfish are reef-grazers who eat algae and ensure that the coral reefs are healthy. These two species have recently been  protected for that reason by the government of Belize.

Yet, understanding functional diversity can have benefits that go beyond restoring ecosystems. To cool Toronto and to reduce storm water runoff, most new commercial building are required to have roofs covered by plants – green roofs.

A monoculture of grass called sedum is used, yet, by mixing grass species that distantly related and dissimilar you create a mix with grasses that have different traits that provide more shade for the soil. This new mix of seeds helped to keep the roof to keep the building cooler and it also reduced the storm-water runoff (by 20 percent).




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