Conservation of community functional structure across changes in composition in consumer-resource models.


Francis I. Proctor Foundation for Research in Ophthalmology, Box 0412, University of California, San Francisco, California 94143-0412, United States. Electronic address: [Email]


High-throughput sequencing techniques such as metagenomic and metatranscriptomic technologies allow cataloguing of functional characteristics of microbial community members as well as their phylogenetic identity. Such studies have found that a community's makeup in terms of ecologically relevant functional traits or guilds can be conserved more strictly across varying settings than its composition is in terms of taxa. I use a standard ecological resource-consumer model to examine the dynamics of traits relevant to resource consumption, and analyze determinants of functional structure. This model demonstrates that interaction with essential resources can regulate the community-wide abundances of ecologically relevant traits, keeping them at consistent levels despite large changes in the abundances of the species housing those traits in response to changes in the environment, and across variation between communities in species composition. Functional structure is shown to be able to track differences in environmental conditions faithfully across differences in species composition. Mathematical conditions on consumers' vital rates and functional responses necessary and sufficient to produce conservation of functional community structure across differences in species composition in these models are presented. These conditions imply a nongeneric relation between biochemical rates, and avenues for further research are discussed.

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