Functional‐diversity indices can be driven by methodological choices and species richness
Functional diversity is an important concept in community ecology because it captures information on functional traits absent in measures of species diversity. One popular method of measuring functional diversity is the dendrogram-based method, FD. To calculate FD, a variety of methodological choices are required, and it has been debated about whether biological conclusions are sensitive to such choices. We studied the probability that conclusions regarding FD were sensitive, and that patterns in sensitivity were related to alpha and beta components of species richness. We developed a randomization procedure that iteratively calculated FD by assigning species into two assemblages and calculating the probability that the community with higher FD varied across methods. We found evidence of sensitivity in all five communities we examined, ranging from a probability of sensitivity of 0 (no sensitivity) to 0.976 (almost completely sensitive). Variations in these probabilities were driven by differences in alpha diversity between assemblages and not by beta diversity. Importantly, FD was most sensitive when it was most useful (i.e., when differences in alpha diversity were low). We demonstrate that trends in functional-diversity analyses can be largely driven by methodological choices or species richness, rather than functional trait information alone.