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RAREFUNCTIONS: The causes and consequences of spatial and temporal variation in rare traits.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RareFunctions (RAREFUNCTIONS: The causes and consequences of spatial and temporal variation in rare traits.)

Reporting period: 2016-06-01 to 2018-05-31

Rare species have long been the focus of conservation attention, but the commonness or rarity of particular characteristics or phenotypes is generally ignored. However, traits can also be rare, and evidence suggests that while rare traits tend to occur in rare species (and so are at greater risk of extinction), not all rare species have rare traits. Further, the diversity of traits present in a community (‘functional diversity’) is closely tied to its function, and so rare traits may make essential contributions to ecosystem function and health. For example, predators may be rare in a system, but act as keystone species with effects across the food web. Given the possibility that rare traits make important contributions to ecosystem products and services and given their greater risk of extinction, it is imperative to explore this question of “functional rarity”. This project will help overcome the lack of a clear definition for functional rarity, the absence of geographical information on its distribution through space and time, and the need for experimental evidence tying the loss of rare traits to effects on ecosystems. This project aims to apply a system of classification to distinguish between different forms of functional rarity to a comprehensive database of plant diversity and trait values in French permanent grasslands. This will produce one of the most comprehensive inventories showing how functional rarity varies through space and time.
The Rarefunctions project successfully supported the development of a statistical package as part of the open-access software R. This 'funrar' package allows automated calculation of measures of functional rarity, and was also disseminated as a peer-reviewed publication in Diversity and Distributions. Additional work on incorporating evolutionary information into analyses of trait diversity and rarity led to publications exploring the global variation in root traits that was published as a peer reviewed paper. We also considered the common species of plants in French permanent grasslands and tested how evolutionary processes contribute to the patterns of traits observed in these species. This work was presented at the Ecological Society of American annual meeting in 2017 and is under review at a peer-reviewed journal. Finally, Rarefunctions supported contributions to the development of a new metric for usage in conservation activities at the Zoological Society of London during the EDGE 2.0 workshop.
Activities initiated as part of the Rarefunctions project are still in progress. Additional papers in review or in revision focus on using measures of functional diversity and rarity to determine the priority of coral reef fish, and more generally to develop planning algorithms for conservation prioritisation.