Trait-based paradise — or only feeding the computer with biology?


We briefly discuss the relationship between the biological knowledge and the methodological issues related to traitbased ecological analyses. We provide illustrative examples and argue that the biological novelty of trait-based research is generally less than expected - while new information is mostly coming from data management and methodology.


  1. Bond, W.J. 1994. Keystone species. In: Schulze, E.D. and Mooney, H.A. (eds), Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function. Springer, Berlin. pp. 237–253.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  2. Cohen, J.E., Briand, F. and Newman, C.M. 1990. Community Food Webs: Data and Theory. Springer, Berlin.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  3. D’Alelio, D., Libralato, S., Wyatt, T. and Ribera d’Alcalà, M. 2016. Ecological-network models link diversity, structure and function in the plankton food-web. Scientific Reports 6: 21806.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. De Ruiter, P.C., Neutel, A.-M. and Moore, J.C. 1995. Energetics, patterns of interaction strengths, and stability in real ecosystems. Science 269:1257–1260.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Krause, A.E., Frank, K.A., Mason, D.M., Ulanowicz, R.E. and Taylor, W.W. 2003. Compartments revealed in food-web structure. Nature 426:282–285.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Lindeman, R.L. 1942. The trophic-dynamic aspect of ecology. Ecology 23:399–417.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Litchman, E. and Klausmeier, C.A. 2008. Trait-based community ecology of phytoplankton. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 39(1):615–639.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Luczkovich, J.J., Borgatti, S.P., Johnson, J.C. and Everett, M.G. 2003. Defining and measuring trophic role similarity in food webs using regular equivalence. J. Theor. Biol. 220:303–321.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. May, R.M. 1973. Stability and Complexity in Model Ecosystems. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Margalef, R. 1968. Perspectives in Ecological Theory. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Mitra, A., Flynn, K.J., Burkholder, J.M. et al. 2014. The role of mixotrophic protists in the biological carbon pump. Biogeosciences 11:995–1005.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Moorthi, S.D., Ptacnik, R., Sanders, R.W., Fischer, R., Busch, M. and Hillebrand, H. 2017. The functional role of planktonic mixotrophs in altering seston stoichiometry. Aquat. Microb. Ecol. 79(3):235–245.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Odum, E.P. 1969. The strategy of ecosystem development. Science 164:262–270.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Orlóci, L., Feoli, E., Lausi, D. and Nimis, P.L. 1986. Estimation of character structure convergence (divergence) in plant communities: a nested hierarchical model. Coenoses 1:11–20.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Podani, J. 1985. Syntaxonomic congruence in a small-scale vegetation survey. Abstracta Botanica 9:99–128.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Polis, G.A. 1991. Complex trophic interactions in deserts: an empirical critique of food web theory. Amer. Nat. 138:123–155.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Power, M.E., Tilman, D., Estes, J.A., Menge, B.A., Bond, W.J., Mills, L.S., Daily, G., Castilla, J.C., Lubchenco, J. and Paine, R.T. 1996. Challenges in the quest for keystones. BioScience 46:609–620.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Steneck, R.S., Dethier, M.N. 1994. A functional group approach to the structure of algal-dominated communities. Oikos 69:476–498.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Ulanowicz, R.E. and Puccia, C.J., 1990. Mixed trophic impacts in ecosystems. Coenoses 5:7–16.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Violle, C., Navas, M.-L., Vile, D., Kazakou, E., Fortunel, C., Hummel, I. and Garnier, E. 2007. Let the concept of trait be functional! Oikos 116:882–892.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to F. Jordán.

Rights and permissions

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Endrédi, A., Jordán, F. & Abonyi, A. Trait-based paradise — or only feeding the computer with biology?. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY 19, 319–321 (2018).

Download citation


  • Functional group
  • Keystone species
  • Trait-based