Functional Traits


Functional traits of species are beginning to serve a critical role in understanding ecology across spatial and temporal scales for many different organisms if many different ecosystems. Functional trait ecology (trait-based ecology) is a unique sub-discipline of ecology, in that it is defined by the way it is studied rather than by the phenomena that it studies (ex. behavioral ecology or predator-prey interactions) or by the ecological scale at which it is studied (ex. Community ecology or Ecosystem ecology). Trait-based ecology is a method of ecological study that has a few defining attributes that make it use for studying ecology across spatial scales:

    1) The use of species phenotypic trait values over taxonomic or     phylogenetic relationships.

    2) Explicit comparison of trait values between coexisting species and/or traits within different environments to elucidate general ecological trends.

    3) Comparison of trait values along different environmental gradients to understand how trait combinations are influenced by the environment and how trait combinations might affect the environment in which they exist.

For more information on the origins of Trait-based ecology read “Reinforcing loose foundation stones in trait‑based plant ecology” by Bill Shipley et al. 2016 Oecologia.

For Class:

We will be discussing more defining concepts of trait-based ecology and the scales at which it can be utilized as well as established functional trait patterns that have been investigated in plant ecology. Finally, we will discuss the usefulness of functional trait diversity in understanding ecosystem function.

A dataset will be uploaded to the class website along with a few papers. We will do some basic analysis using JMP on this functional trait dataset. PLEASE BRING COMPUTERS!

In the field at the Rice Center we will talk about different sampling methods and the strength of correlation each provide to ecological processes.

To prepare please take time to read the review paper by Jennifer Funk et al. (2017)

“Revisiting the Holy Grail: using plant functional traits to understand ecological process”



Joseph Brown


Office Information

Research Interests
Community Ecology
Functional Traits
Coastal Plant Ecology


Privacy Statement