Traits-based approaches and the quest for generality over contingency in ecology
The amount of variation found in Nature has fascinated ecologists since the days of the Victorian naturalists, continually stimulating novel research and shifts in paradigms as new facets of natural variation are recognized and their significance assessed. Historical roots in natural history have provided the foundation for over a century of biodiversity research focused predominantly from a taxonomic perspective. In recent decades, however, scientific thought has branched out to include ecological theories and frameworks built upon traits rather than taxonomy; referred to as traits-based ecology. A functional perspective is viewed to be more mechanistic and more widely applicable, and consequently ecologists have increasingly turned to the use of species traits as an analytical currency of studying patterns and drivers of biodiversity across diverse taxonomies and geographies. In my presentation I demonstrate the utility of a traits-based approach for tackling among the most pressing basic and applied questions in freshwater ecology.
I report on a series of related case studies that use traits to identify those species most prone to extinction and at-risk to invasion, forecast large-scale impacts of environmental change for species assemblages, systematic conservation planning to prioritize areas of high biodiversity value, and predicting the ecosystems consequences of community disassembly. I conclude with the argument that traits-based approaches offer a way forward to understand the implications of environmental change for populations, communities and ecosystem function and may provide the best chance for generality over contingency in ecology.