The importance of species richness in maintaining ecosystem function in the field remains unclear. Recent studies however have suggested that in some systems functionality is maintained by a few abundant species. Here we determine this relationship by quantifying the species responsible for a key ecosystem role, carcass removal by scavengers. We find that, unlike those within largely unaltered environments, the scavenger community within our highly altered system is dominated by a single species, the Carrion crow, despite the presence of a number of other scavenging species.

Biodiversity is undergoing unprecedented global decline. Efforts to slow this rate have focused foremost on rarer species, which are at most risk of extinction. Less interest has been paid to more common species, despite their greater importance in terms of ecosystem function and service provision. How rates of decline are partitioned between common and less abundant species remains unclear. Using a 30-year data set of 144 bird species, we examined Europe-wide trends in avian abundance and biomass.