While the impact of biodiversity, notably functional diversity, on ecosystem productivity has been extensively studied, little is known about the effect of individual species. Here, we identified species of high importance for productivity (key species) in over 28,000 diverse grassland communities in the European Alps, and compared their effects with those of community-level measures of functional composition (weighted means, variances, skewness, and kurtosis). After accounting for the environment, the five most important key species jointly explained more deviance than all statistics of functional composition. Key species were generally tall with high specific leaf areas. By dividing the observations according to distinct habitats, the explanatory power of all non-environmental predictors increased considerably, and the relationships between functional composition and productivity varied systematically, presumably because of changing interactions and trade-offs between traits. Our results advocate for a better consideration of species’ individual effects on ecosystem functioning in complement to community-level measures.
Environmental DNA (eDNA) has the potential to provide more comprehensive biodiversity assessments particularly for vertebrates in species-rich regions. Yet, this method requires the completeness of a reference database, i.e. a list of DNA sequences attached to each species, which is never met. As an alternative, a diversity of Operational Taxonomic Units (OTUs) can be extracted from eDNA metabarcoding. However, the extent to which the diversity of OTUs provided by a limited eDNA sampling effort can predict regional species diversity is unknown. Here, by modelling OTU accumulation curves of eDNA seawater samples across the Coral Triangle, we obtained an asymptote reaching 1,531 fish OTUs while 1,611 fish species are recorded in the region. Besides, we also accurately predict (R² = 0.92) the distribution of species richness among fish families from OTU-based asymptotes. Thus, the multi-model framework of OTU accumulation curves extends the use of eDNA metabarcoding in ecology, biogeography and conservation.