Ecosystem function and species loss - A microcosm study

Fiona R. Scarff*, J. Stuart Bradley

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    There are too many kinds of organisms to be able to study and manage each, yet the loss of a single species can sometimes unravel an ecosystem. Such 'fusewire species' - critical in the same sense that an electrical fuse can cut out a whole circuit - would be a rewarding focus for research and management effort. However, this approach can only be effective if these 'fusewires' represent but a small proportion of the number of species in the system. Aim: To demonstrate methods for measuring what proportion of the species in a system are critical to ecosystem function. Methods: The prevalence of fusewire species was measured in manipulative experiments on an aquatic microcosm. Results: No single genus deletion caused changes in key characteristics of the system. Main conclusions: Comparison of these results with other published studies shows that the proportion of critical fusewire species varies amongst different ecosystems. The oxidation pond microcosms were shown to contain no single species indispensable to system function. They appear to be ill-suited to a management strategy which focuses on priority eukaryote species. However, a single study provides no evidence that this result is general or even typical of other kinds of ecosystems; it is presented here as an empirical model. Other methods of investigation are available; they are less experimentally rigorous but more practical. These could provide important guidance in planning an approach to management in a particular ecosystem.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)641-651
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of Biogeography
    Issue number5-6
    Publication statusPublished - 2002


    • Ecosystem function
    • Fusewire species
    • Keystone species
    • Microcosm


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