Trait-based ecology strives to better understand how species, through their bio-ecological traits, respond to environmental changes, and influence ecosystem functioning. Identifying which traits are most responsive to environmental changes can provide insight for understanding community structuring and developing sustainable management practices. However, misinterpretations are possible, because standard statistical methods (e.g., principal component analysis and linear regression) for identifying and ranking the responses of different traits to environmental changes ignore interspecific differences. Here, using both artificial data and real-world examples from marine fish communities, we show how considering species-specific responses can lead to drastically different results than standard community-level methods. By demonstrating the potential impacts of interspecific differences on trait dynamics, we illuminate a major, yet rarely discussed issue, highlighting how analytical misinterpretations can confound our basic understanding of trait responses, which could have important consequences for biodiversity conservation.
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This study was supported by Électricité de France (RESTICLIM and ECLIPSE Project), IFREMER (ECLIPSE Project), Région Hauts-de-France and the Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (ECLIPSE Project, Contract No. astre 2014-10824).
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McLean, M., Mouillot, D., Villéger, S. et al. Interspecific differences in environmental response blur trait dynamics in classic statistical analyses. Mar Biol 166, 152 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-019-3602-5