A novel testate amoebae trait-based approach to infer environmental disturbance in Sphagnum peatlands

Species' functional traits are closely related to ecosystem processes through evolutionary adaptation, and are thus directly connected to environmental changes. Species' traits are not commonly used in palaeoecology, even though they offer powerful advantages in understanding the impact of environmental disturbances in a mechanistic way over time. Here we show that functional traits of testate amoebae (TA), a common group of palaeoecological indicators, can serve as an early warning signal of ecosystem disturbance and help determine thresholds of ecosystem resilience to disturbances in peatlands. We analysed TA traits from two Sphagnum-dominated mires, which had experienced different kinds of disturbances in the past 2000 years -fire and peat extraction, respectively. We tested the effect of disturbances on the linkages between TA community structure, functional trait composition and functional diversity using structural equation modelling. We found that traits such as mixotrophy and small hidden apertures (plagiostomic apertures) are strongly connected with disturbance, suggesting that these two traits can be used as palaeoecological proxies of peatland disturbance. We show that TA functional traits may serve as a good proxy of past environmental changes, and further analysis of trait-ecosystem relationships could make them valuable indicators of the contemporary ecosystem state.

Published in:
Scientific Reports, 6, 33907
London, Nature Publishing Group

 Record created 2016-11-21, last modified 2018-03-17

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