Sediment data, statistical model summary and additional figures from Species contributions to ecosystem process and function can be population dependent and modified by biotic and abiotic setting

There is unequivocal evidence that altered biodiversity, through changes in the expression and distribution of functional traits, can have large impacts on ecosystem properties. However, trait-based summaries of how organisms affect ecosystem properties often assume that traits show constancy within and between populations and that species contributions to ecosystem functioning are not overly affected by the presence of other species or variations in abiotic conditions. Here, we evaluate the validity of these assumptions using an experiment in which three geographically distinct populations of intertidal sediment-dwelling invertebrates are reciprocally substituted. We find that the mediation of macronutrient generation by these species can vary between different populations and show that changes in biotic and/or abiotic conditions can further modify functionally important aspects of the behaviour of individuals within a population. Our results demonstrate the importance of knowing how, when and why traits are expressed and suggest that these dimensions of species functionality are not sufficiently well-constrained to facilitate the accurate projection of the functional consequences of change. Information about the ecological role of key species and assumptions about the form of species–environment interactions needs urgent refinement.