The loss of species is known to have significant effects on ecosystem functioning, but only recently has it been recognized that species loss might rival the effects of other forms of environmental change on ecosystem processes. There is a need for experimental studies that explicitly manipulate species richness and environmental factors concurrently to determine their relative impacts on key ecosystem processes such as plant litter decomposition. It is crucial to understand what factors affect the rate of plant litter decomposition and the relative magnitude of such effects because the rate at which plant litter is lost and transformed to other forms of organic and inorganic carbon determines the capacity for carbon storage in ecosystems and the rate at which greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide are outgassed. Here we compared how an increase in water temperature of 5uC and loss of detritivorous invertebrate and plant litter species affect decomposition rates in a laboratory experiment simulating stream conditions. Like some prior studies, we found that species identity, rather than species richness per se, is a key driver of decomposition, but additionally we showed that the loss of particular species can equal or exceed temperature change in its impact on decomposition. Our results indicate that the loss of particular species can be as important a driver of decomposition as substantial temperature change, but also that predicting the relative consequences of species loss and other forms of environmental change on decomposition requires knowledge of assemblages and their constituent species' ecology and ecophysiology.
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