Assessing the importance of intraspecific variability in dung beetle functional traits

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Functional diversity indices are used to facilitate a mechanistic understanding of many theoretical and applied questions in current ecological research. The use of mean trait values in functional indices assumes that traits are robust, in that greater variability exists between than within species. While the assertion of robust traits has been explored in plants, there exists little information on the source and extent of variability in the functional traits of higher trophic level organisms. Here we investigated variability in two functionally relevant dung beetle traits, measured from individuals collected from three primary forest sites containing distinct beetle communities: body mass and back leg length. In doing so we too addressed the following questions: (i) what is the contribution of intra vs. interspecific differences in trait values; (ii) what sample size is needed to provide representative species mean trait values; and (iii) what impact does omission of intraspecific trait information have on the calculation of functional diversity (FD) indices from naturally assembled communities? At the population level, interspecific differences explained the majority of variability in measured traits (between 94% and 96%). In accordance with this, the error associated with calculating FD without inclusion of intraspecific variability was low, less than 20% in all cases. This suggests that complete sampling to capture intraspecific variance in traits is not necessary even when investigating the FD of small and/or naturally formed communities. To gain an accurate estimation of species mean trait values we encourage the measurement of 30-60 individuals and, where possible, these should be taken from specimens collected from the site of study.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere145598
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016