Species, Functional Groups, and Thresholds in Ecological Resilience

Shana M. Sundstrom, Craig R. Allen, Chris Barichievy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


The cross-scale resilience model states that ecological resilience is generated in part from the distribution of functions within and across scales in a system. Resilience is a measure of a system's ability to remain organized around a particular set of mutually reinforcing processes and structures, known as a regime. We define scale as the geographic extent over which a process operates and the frequency with which a process occurs. Species can be categorized into functional groups that are a link between ecosystem processes and structures and ecological resilience. We applied the cross-scale resilience model to avian species in a grassland ecosystem. A species' morphology is shaped in part by its interaction with ecological structure and pattern, so animal body mass reflects the spatial and temporal distribution of resources. We used the log-transformed rank-ordered body masses of breeding birds associated with grasslands to identify aggregations and discontinuities in the distribution of those body masses. We assessed cross-scale resilience on the basis of 3 metrics: overall number of functional groups, number of functional groups within an aggregation, and the redundancy of functional groups across aggregations. We assessed how the loss of threatened species would affect cross-scale resilience by removing threatened species from the data set and recalculating values of the 3 metrics. We also determined whether more function was retained than expected after the loss of threatened species by comparing observed loss with simulated random loss in a Monte Carlo process. The observed distribution of function compared with the random simulated loss of function indicated that more functionality in the observed data set was retained than expected. On the basis of our results, we believe an ecosystem with a full complement of species can sustain considerable species losses without affecting the distribution of functions within and across aggregations, although ecological resilience is reduced. We propose that the mechanisms responsible for shaping discontinuous distributions of body mass and the nonrandom distribution of functions may also shape species losses such that local extinctions will be nonrandom with respect to the retention and distribution of functions and that the distribution of function within and across aggregations will be conserved despite extinctions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-314
Number of pages10
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Biodiversity
  • Cross-scale resilience
  • Endangered species conservation
  • Especies
  • Functional groups
  • Grassland
  • Grupos funcionales
  • Regime shifts
  • Umbrales de la resiliencia ecológica

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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