Research ArticleECOLOGY

Individual behavior drives ecosystem function and the impacts of harvest

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Science Advances  26 Feb 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 9, eaax8329
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax8329


Current approaches for biodiversity conservation and management focus on sustaining high levels of diversity among species to maintain ecosystem function. We show that the diversity among individuals within a single population drives function at the ecosystem scale. Specifically, nutrient supply from individual fish differs from the population average >80% of the time, and accounting for this individual variation nearly doubles estimates of nutrients supplied to the ecosystem. We test how management (i.e., selective harvest regimes) can alter ecosystem function and find that strategies targeting more active individuals reduce nutrient supply to the ecosystem up to 69%, a greater effect than body size–selective or nonselective harvest. Findings show that movement behavior at the scale of the individual can have crucial repercussions for the functioning of an entire ecosystem, proving an important challenge to the species-centric definition of biodiversity if the conservation and management of ecosystem function is a primary goal.

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