Marine conservation increasingly focuses on describing and maintaining ecosystem functioning. However, it is difficult to find suitable measures for whole-ecosystem functioning because the concept incorporates many different processes and includes physical, chemical and biological phenomena. An approach is presented here for describing functioning based on traits exhibited by members of biological assemblages. Species’ traits determine how they contribute to ecosystem processes, so the presence and distribution of such traits can be utilised to indicate aspects of functioning. This multi-trait approach is relatively new to marine ecology and the few studies to-date have mainly described patterns of functioning with respect to environmental variability and investigated the impacts of bottom trawling. Areas where the approach can make a significant contribution to conservation and marine management are discussed, such as monitoring the effects of human activities and success of subsequent management strategies, identifying species likely to become invasive or those particularly vulnerable to extinction and predicting the effects of future disturbance such as climate change.
Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology