A trait-based framework for seagrass ecology: Trends and prospects

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In the last three decades, quantitative approaches that rely on organism traits instead of taxonomy have advanced different fields of ecological research through establishing the mechanistic links between environmental drivers, functional traits, and ecosystem functions. A research subfield where trait-based approaches have been frequently used but poorly synthesized is the ecology of seagrasses; marine angiosperms that colonized the ocean 100M YA and today make up productive yet threatened coastal ecosystems globally. Here, we compiled a comprehensive trait-based response-effect framework (TBF) which builds on previous concepts and ideas, including the use of traits for the study of community assembly processes, from dispersal and response to abiotic and biotic factors, to ecosystem function and service provision. We then apply this framework to the global seagrass literature, using a systematic review to identify the strengths, gaps, and opportunities of the field. Seagrass trait research has mostly focused on the effect of environmental drivers on traits, i.e., “environmental filtering” (72%), whereas links between traits and functions are less common (26.9%). Despite the richness of trait-based data available, concepts related to TBFs are rare in the seagrass literature (15% of studies), including the relative importance of neutral and niche assembly processes, or the influence of trait dominance or complementarity in ecosystem function provision. These knowledge gaps indicate ample potential for further research, highlighting the need to understand the links between the unique traits of seagrasses and the ecosystem services they provide.

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DOI 10.3389/fpls.2023.1088643

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Moreira-Saporiti, A. , Teichberg, M. , Garnier, E. , Cornelissen, J. H. C. , Alcoverro, T. , Björk, M. , Boström, C. , Dattolo, E. , Eklöf, J. S. , Hasler-Sheetal, H. , Marbà, N. , Marín-Guirao, L. , Meysick, L. , Olivé, I. , Reusch, T. B. , Ruocco, M. , Silva, J. , Sousa, A. I. , Procaccini, G. and Santos, R. (2023): A trait-based framework for seagrass ecology: Trends and prospects , Frontiers in Plant Science, 14 , p. 1088643 . doi: 10.3389/fpls.2023.1088643

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