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The use of functional traits to explain biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning has attracted intense recent interest, yet very few a priori manipulations of functional diversity have been attempted to date, especially from a food web perspective. Here, we simultaneously manipulated multiple functional traits of estuarine grazers and predators within multiple levels of species richness to test whether species richness or functional diversity is a better predictor of ecosystem functioning in multitrophic estuarine food webs. Community functional diversity better predicted the majority of ecosystem responses based on results from generalized linear mixed effects models. Structural equation modeling revealed that this outcome was independently attributable to functional diversity of both trophic levels, with stronger effects observed for predators. Functional complementarity was also important, as species with different combinations of traits influenced different ecosystem functions. Our study is the first to extend experimental investigations of functional diversity to a multilevel food web, and demonstrates that functional diversity is more effective than species richness in predicting ecosystem functioning in a food web context.
This pre-print is hosted for open peer-review concurrently with submission to an ecological journal.