Integrating community assembly and biodiversity to better understand ecosystem function: the Community Assembly and the Functioning of Ecosystems (CAFE) approach

Katherine H. Bannar-Martin, Colin T. Kremer, S. K.Morgan Ernest, Mathew A. Leibold, Harald Auge, Jonathan Chase, Steven A.J. Declerck, Nico Eisenhauer, Stanley Harpole, Helmut Hillebrand, Forest Isbell, Thomas Koffel, Stefano Larsen, Anita Narwani, Jana S. Petermann, Christiane Roscher, Juliano Sarmento Cabral, Sarah R. Supp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The research of a generation of ecologists was catalysed by the recognition that the number and identity of species in communities influences the functioning of ecosystems. The relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (BEF) is most often examined by controlling species richness and randomising community composition. In natural systems, biodiversity changes are often part of a bigger community assembly dynamic. Therefore, focusing on community assembly and the functioning of ecosystems (CAFE), by integrating both species richness and composition through species gains, losses and changes in abundance, will better reveal how community changes affect ecosystem function. We synthesise the BEF and CAFE perspectives using an ecological application of the Price equation, which partitions the contributions of richness and composition to function. Using empirical examples, we show how the CAFE approach reveals important contributions of composition to function. These examples show how changes in species richness and composition driven by environmental perturbations can work in concert or antagonistically to influence ecosystem function. Considering how communities change in an integrative fashion, rather than focusing on one axis of community structure at a time, will improve our ability to anticipate and predict changes in ecosystem function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-180
Number of pages14
JournalEcology letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper is a joint effort of the working group sCAFE and an outcome of a workshop kindly supported by sDiv, the Synthesis Centre of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig (DFG FZT 118).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Authors. Ecology Letters published by CNRS and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Biodiversity
  • Price equation
  • community assembly
  • composition
  • dispersal
  • ecosystem function
  • metacommunity

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