It has been argued that one of the best ways to conserve biological diversity is to maintain the integrity of functional processes within communities, and this can be accomplished by assessing how much ecological redundancy exists in communities. Evidence suggests, however, that the functional roles species play are subject to the influences of local environmental conditions. Species may appear to perform the same function (i.e. be redundant) under a restricted set of conditions, yet their functional roles may vary in naturally heterogeneous environments. Incorporating the environmental context into ecological experiments would provide a critical perspective for examining functional redundancy among species.