Applying the dark diversity concept to nature conservation

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  • Rob Lewis
  • Francesco de Bello, Czech RepublicJonathan A Bennett, CanadaPavel Fibich, Czech RepublicGenevieve E Finerty, United KingdomLars Götzenberger, Czech RepublicInga Hiiesalu, EstoniaLiis Kasari, EstoniaJan Lepš, Czech RepublicMaria Májeková, Czech RepublicOndřej Mudrák, Czech RepublicKersti Riibak, EstoniaArgo Ronk, EstoniaTerezie Rychtecká, Czech RepublicAlena Vitová, Czech RepublicMeelis Pärtel, Estonia
Linking diversity to biological processes is central for developing informed and effective conservation decisions. Unfortunately, observable patterns provide only a proportion of the information necessary for fully understanding the mechanisms and processes acting on a particular population or community. We suggest conservation managers use the often overlooked information relative to species absences and pay particular attention to dark diversity (i.e., a set of species that are absent from a site but that could disperse to and establish there, in other words, the absent portion of a habitat-specific species pool). Together with existing ecological metrics, concepts, and conservation tools, dark diversity can be used to complement and further develop conservation prioritization and management decisions through an understanding of biodiversity relativized by its potential (i.e., its species pool). Furthermore, through a detailed understanding of the population, community, and functional dark diversity, the restoration potential of degraded habitats can be more rigorously assessed further and so to the likelihood of successful species invasions. We suggest the application of the dark-diversity concept is currently an underappreciated source of information that is valuable for conservation applications ranging from macroscale conservation prioritization to more locally scaled restoration ecology and the management of invasive species. Introduction Conservation biology has strong scientific underpinnings (e.g. Tansley 1949). Early in its formalisation as a science, the necessity for ecologically relevant metrics for use in quantifying the diversity of plant and animal communities was recognized. Nevertheless, formulating and empirically testing theory to support observed biodiversity patterns has always presented the greater challenge. Linking patterns to processes is absolutely central to nature conservation because it allows one to identify and resolve problems that adversely impact biodiversity (Watt 1947), one of the ultimate goals of conservation. Still, the large number of mechanisms and processes underpinning observed ecological patterns is of such complexity that attributing patterns to processes has been described as an inseparable “mess” (Lawton 1999). However, what if ecological mechanisms and processes can only be partially linked to observable patterns? From this perspective, perhaps it becomes less alarming that observable patterns reflect only a proportion of the bigger picture. It also raises an interesting question. Can knowledge of absences complement the understanding of ecological processes? The recently developed concept of dark diversity (which sets absences within the species-pool framework) (Fig. 1) emphasizes the value of understanding absent species in addition to observed species. Strictly, dark diversity encompasses all species that are currently absent from a site but have the potential to disperse and establish there (Pärtel et al. 2011) (i.e., those species belonging to a site’s habitat-specific species pool, also referred to as the “filtered” species pool [Cornell & Harrison 2014; Zobel 2016]). We considered the state of the art surrounding absent species in ecology, specifically dark diversity, and how including both absent and observed species has vast potential to improve understanding of how biological diversity is governed and maintained. We illustrate our viewpoint by clarifying how measuring, monitoring, and understanding dark diversity can prove beneficial in the context of 3 facets of conservation biology: biodiversity conservation, habitat restoration, and species invasion management.
Original languageEnglish
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017

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