Trait-based approaches in rapidly changing ecosystems: A roadmap to the future polar oceans

Renate Degen, Magnus Aune, Bodil A. Bluhm, Camilla Cassidy, Monika Kędra, Casper Kraan, Leen Vandepitte, Maria Włodarska-Kowalczuk, Irina Zhulay, Paolo G. Albano, Julie Bremner, Jacqueline M. Grebmeier, Heike Link, Nathalie Morata, Marie C. Nordström, Mehdi Ghodrati Shojaei, Lauren Sutton, Martin Zuschin

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Polar marine regions are facing rapid changes induced by climate change, with consequences for local faunal populations, but also for overall ecosystem functioning, goods and services. Yet given the complexity of polar marine ecosystems, predicting the mode, direction and extent of these consequences remains challenging. Trait-based approaches are increasingly adopted as a tool by which to explore changes in functioning, but trait information is largely absent for the high latitudes. Some understanding of trait–function relationships can be gathered from studies at lower latitudes, but given the uniqueness of polar ecosystems it is questionable whether these relationships can be directly transferred. Here we discuss the challenges of using trait-based approaches in polar regions and present a roadmap of how to overcome them by following six interlinked steps: (1) forming an active, international research network, (2) standardizing terminology and methodology, (3) building and crosslinking trait databases, (4) conducting coordinated trait-function experiments, (5) implementing traits into models, and finally, (6) providing advice to management and stakeholders. The application of trait-based approaches in addition to traditional species-based methods will enable us to assess the effects of rapid ongoing changes on the functioning of marine polar ecosystems. Implementing our roadmap will make these approaches more easily accessible to a broad community of users and consequently aid understanding of the future polar oceans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)722-736
Number of pages15
JournalEcological Indicators
Early online date30 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • Functional traits
  • Marine
  • Polar regions
  • Climate change
  • Ecosystem functioning
  • Trait database

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