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The traits of "trait ecologists": An analysis of the use of trait and functional trait terminology

Dawson, Samantha and Carmona, Carlos Perez and Gonzalez-Suarez, Manuela and Jönsson, Mari and Chichorro, Filipe and Mallen-Cooper, Max and Melero, Yolanda and Moor, Helen and Simaika, John P. and Duthie, Alexander Bradley (2021). The traits of "trait ecologists": An analysis of the use of trait and functional trait terminology. Ecology and Evolution. 11 , 16434-16445
[Research article]

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Abstract

Trait and functional trait approaches have revolutionized ecology improving our understanding of community assembly, species coexistence, and biodiversity loss. Focusing on traits promotes comparability across spatial and organizational scales, but terms must be used consistently. While several papers have offered definitions, it remains unclear how ecologists operationalize "trait" and "functional trait" terms. Here, we evaluate how researchers and the published literatures use these terms and explore differences among subdisciplines and study systems (taxa and biome). By conducting both a survey and a literature review, we test the hypothesis that ecologists' working definition of "trait" is adapted or altered when confronting the realities of collecting, analyzing and presenting data. From 486 survey responses and 712 reviewed papers, we identified inconsistencies in the understanding and use of terminology among researchers, but also limited inclusion of definitions within the published literature. Discrepancies were not explained by subdiscipline, system of study, or respondent characteristics, suggesting there could be an inconsistent understanding even among those working in related topics. Consistencies among survey responses included the use of morphological, phonological, and physiological traits. Previous studies have called for unification of terminology; yet, our study shows that proposed definitions are not consistently used or accepted. Sources of disagreement include trait heritability, defining and interpreting function, and dealing with organisms in which individuals are not clearly recognizable. We discuss and offer guidelines for overcoming these disagreements. The diversity of life on Earth means traits can represent different features that can be measured and reported in different ways, and thus, narrow definitions that work for one system will fail in others. We recommend ecologists embrace the breadth of biodiversity using a simplified definition of "trait" more consistent with its common use. Trait-based approaches will be most powerful if we accept that traits are at least as diverse as trait ecologists.

Authors/Creators:Dawson, Samantha and Carmona, Carlos Perez and Gonzalez-Suarez, Manuela and Jönsson, Mari and Chichorro, Filipe and Mallen-Cooper, Max and Melero, Yolanda and Moor, Helen and Simaika, John P. and Duthie, Alexander Bradley
Title:The traits of "trait ecologists": An analysis of the use of trait and functional trait terminology
Series Name/Journal:Ecology and Evolution
Year of publishing :2021
Volume:11
Page range:16434-16445
Number of Pages:12
Publisher:WILEY
ISSN:2045-7758
Language:English
Publication Type:Research article
Article category:Scientific peer reviewed
Version:Published version
Copyright:Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0
Full Text Status:Public
Subjects:(A) Swedish standard research categories 2011 > 1 Natural sciences > 106 Biological Sciences (Medical to be 3 and Agricultural to be 4) > Ecology
Keywords:community ecology, functional ecology, functional trait, trait
URN:NBN:urn:nbn:se:slu:epsilon-p-114456
Permanent URL:
http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:slu:epsilon-p-114456
Additional ID:
Type of IDID
DOI10.1002/ece3.8321
Web of Science (WoS)000716893300001
ID Code:26346
Faculty:NJ - Fakulteten för naturresurser och jordbruksvetenskap
Department:(NL, NJ) > Swedish Species Information Centre
Deposited By: SLUpub Connector
Deposited On:20 Dec 2021 08:25
Metadata Last Modified:20 Dec 2021 08:31

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