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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