Ecometrics: A Trait-Based Approach to Paleoclimate and Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction

  • Wesley A. Vermillion
  • P. David Polly
  • Jason J. Head
  • Jussi T. Eronen
  • A. Michelle Lawing
Part of the Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology book series (VERT)


Ecometrics is a trait-based approach to study ecosystem variability through time. An ecometric value is derived from describing the distribution of functional traits at the community level, which may arise by environmental filtering, extinction, or convergence. An ecometric relationship describes the correspondence between spatially explicit ecometric values and corresponding environmental variation. Transfer functions and maximum likelihood approaches have been developed with modern trait-environment relationships to reconstruct paleotemperature, paleoprecipitation, and paleovegetation cover given the distribution of functional traits within a community. Because the focus for this approach is on the traits and not on species, it is transferable through space and time and can be used to compare novel communities. In this paper we review the concepts and history of ecometric analysis and then describe practical methods for implementing an ecometric study.


Functional morphology Paleoecology Maximum likelihood Geographic distribution Taxon-free 



This contribution is the result of collaborative work supported by the Integrative Climate Change Biology program (iCCB) of the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS). We thank Rachel Short, Darin Croft, and two anonymous reviewers for providing valuable feedback on the manuscript. PDP and JJH were supported by NSF grants EAR 1338298 and 1338028.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wesley A. Vermillion
    • 1
  • P. David Polly
    • 2
  • Jason J. Head
    • 3
  • Jussi T. Eronen
    • 4
  • A. Michelle Lawing
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecosystem Science and ManagementTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  2. 2.Departments of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, Biology, and AnthropologyIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Zoology and University Museum of ZoologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  4. 4.Ecosystems and Environment Research Programme and Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS)University of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

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