High Dimensionality of the Stability of a Marine Benthic Ecosystem

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Stability is a central property of complex systems and encompasses multiple dimensions such as resistance, resilience, recovery, and invariability. How these dimensions correlate among them is focus of recent ecological research, but empirical evidence at regional scales, at which conservation decisions are usually made, remains absent. Using a field-based manipulative experiment conducted in two marine intertidal regions, we analyze the correlations among different aspects of stability in functioning (community cover) and composition of local communities facing a press disturbance. The experiment involved the removal of the local space-dominant species for 35 months in eight sites under different environmental regimes in northern- and southern-central Chile (ca. 30 and 40°S, respectively). After the disturbance, the magnitude of the initial responses and the recovery patterns were similar among communities dominated by different species, but varied between the functional and compositional response variables, and among four dimensions of stability. The recovery trajectories in function and composition remained mostly uncorrelated across the system. Yet, larger initial functional responses were associated with faster recovery trajectories—high functional resilience, in turn, was associated with both, high and low variability in the pattern of recovery. Finally, the compositional stability dimensions were independent from each other. The results suggest that varying community compositions can perform similar levels of functioning, which might be the result of strong compensatory dynamics among species competing for space in these communities. Knowledge of several, and sometimes independent, aspects of stability is mandatory to fully describe the stability of complex ecological systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number569650
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
StatePublished - 15 Jan 2021


  • disturbance
  • field experiment
  • metacommunity
  • rocky intertidal communities
  • species extinction


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