When Do Ecosystem Services Depend on Rare Species?

Laura E. Dee, Jane Cowles, Forest Isbell, Stephanie Pau, Steven D. Gaines, Peter B. Reich

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

136 Scopus citations


Conservation aims to preserve species and ecosystem services. If rare species contribute little to ecosystem services, yet are those most in need of preservation, tradeoffs may exist for these contrasting objectives. However, little attention has focused on identifying how, when, and where rare species contribute to ecosystem services and at what scales. Here, we review distinct ways that ecosystem services can positively depend on the presence, abundance, disproportionate contribution or, counterintuitively, the scarcity of rare species. By contrast, ecosystem services are less likely to depend on rare species that do not have a unique role in any service or become abundant enough to contribute substantially. We propose a research agenda to identify when rare species may contribute significantly to services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)746-758
Number of pages13
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
L.E.D. thanks J. Caselle, B. Kendall, C. Costello, and D. Tilman for comments on an earlier version of this work. We thank four anonymous reviewers for comments that improved this paper. We acknowledge support from the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network Communications Office and US National Science Foundation (NSF) DEB-1545288 . P.B.R. and F.I. acknowledge support from a US NSF LTER grant DEB-1234162 .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd


  • biodiversity conservation
  • ecosystem functioning
  • ecosystem services
  • keystone species
  • rare species
  • species composition


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