An alternative to species identity-based methods (taxonomy) is the use of species traits. This approach has recently gathered momentum because of its spatial and temporal robustness. Traits are inherited characteristics of species that relate to their biology and the environment they live in. They are divided into ecological and functional traits. Examples of traits are, for instance, feeding mechanisms, longevity, body size and mobility. The advantage of traits over identity-based species composition, when investigating stressor-response relationships, is that − traits can be used across areas with different species diversity; − traits are directly related to habitats; − traits can inform about ecosystem functioning.
Traits thus provide a mechanistic understanding of how environmental change influences biotic communities. This brings us a step closer to being able to diagnose cause and effect drivers.