Habitat-islands in the coastal Atacama Desert: loss of functional redundancy, but not of functional diversity, with decreased precipitation

Gisela C. Stotz, Cristian Salgado-Luarte, Alonso T. Vigil, Henry J. De La Cruz, Víctor Pastén-Marambio, Ernesto Gianoli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Aridity is increasing in many regions of the world, but microclimatic conditions may buffer plant communities from the direct effects of decreased precipitation, creating habitat islands. However, reduced precipitation can also impact these communities indirectly by decreasing the suitability of the surrounding habitat, thus limiting incoming propagules and increasing the chances of population decline and species loss. We test whether decreased precipitation results in loss of species and functional diversity within habitat islands, evaluating in particular whether declines in species diversity and abundance are less likely to result in loss of functional diversity if species/individual loss is stochastic (i.e. independent of species/individual traits) and communities/populations are functionally redundant. METHODS: Lomas communities are discrete plant communities embedded in the Atacama Desert, maintained by the microclimatic conditions created by fog. We recorded species and functional diversity in six Lomas communities along a 500 km long precipitation gradient in northern Chile. Functional traits were measured in 20 individuals per species, in those species that accounted for approx. 75 % of the abundance at each site. We calculated functional diversity and functional redundancy of the community, and intraspecific functional variation. KEY RESULTS: Decreased precipitation was associated with lower species diversity and lower species abundances. However, no traits or functional strategies increased or decreased consistently with precipitation, suggesting stochastic species/individual loss. Species with stress-tolerant strategies were predominant in all sites. Although species diversity decreased with decreasing precipitation, functional diversity remained unchanged. Lower functional redundancy in the drier sites suggests that mainly functionally redundant species were lost. Likewise, intraspecific functional variation was similar among communities, despite the lower species abundance in drier sites. CONCLUSIONS: Decreased precipitation can impact habitat island communities indirectly by decreasing the suitability of the surrounding habitat. Our results support the idea that a stochastic loss of species/individuals from functionally redundant communities and populations does not result in loss of functional diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)669-680
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of Botany
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • climate change
  • fog
  • fragmentation
  • functional diversity
  • Functional redundancy
  • functional strategies
  • habitat islands
  • intraspecific functional variation
  • isolation
  • Lomas communities
  • precipitation
  • species diversity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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