Benthic communities show changes in composition and structure across different environmental characteristics and habitats. However, incorporating species biological traits into the analysis can provide a better understanding of system functioning within habitats. We compare the functional diversity of macrobenthic communities from a contrasting shallow (15 m) and deep (50 m) sublittoral soft-sediment habitats in northern Chile, using biological traits analysis. Our aim was to highlight the biological characteristics responsible for differences between habitats and the implications for ecosystem functioning. Trait analysis showed that the deep habitat was restricted in providing functionally important biogenic structure and bioturbation and supports less diverse feeding-related energy pathways. The shallow habitat is characterized by more diverse energy pathways and a higher potential for matter exchange through bioturbation. We provide support to the predictions of transfer of energy from the benthos to upper trophic levels in the shallow, which is characterized mainly by normoxia and little organic matter content in the sediment. In the deep habitat, characterized by hypoxia and more organic matter, energy appears to be transferred to microbial components. We suggest that trait analysis should be added to the traditional approaches based on species diversity, because it provides indicators of ecosystem stress.
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Acknowledgments We appreciate the help of many students from the Facultad de Recursos del Mar, Universidad de Antofagasta, particularly Alexis Maffet and Karen Chamblas for their support during field trips and samples sorting. Guillermo Guzman provided much taxonomic guidance. Comments by two anonymous reviewers help us to improve an early draft of this manuscript. This study was funded by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in cooperation with the Instituto de Investigaciones Oceanologicas, Universidad de Antofagasta and the EU-funded INCO project, ‘‘Climate Variability and El Niño-Southern Oscillation: Implications for Natural Coastal Resources and Management’’ (CENSOR) and Prog-rama Bicentenario de Ciéncia y Tecnología RUE-02.
- Biological traits
- Ecosystem functioning
- Fuzzy coding