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Keywords:

  • Traits;
  • Biomonitoring;
  • Bioassessment;
  • Causal diagnosis;
  • Prediction

Abstract

The linkage of trait responses to stressor gradients has potential to expand biomonitoring approaches beyond traditional taxonomically based assessments that identify ecological effect to provide a causal diagnosis. Traits-based information may have several advantages over taxonomically based methods. These include providing mechanistic linkages of biotic responses to environmental conditions, consistent descriptors or metrics across broad spatial scales, more seasonal stability compared with taxonomic measures, and seamless integration of traits-based analysis into assessment programs. A traits-based biomonitoring approach does not require a new biomonitoring framework, because contemporary biomonitoring programs gather the basic site-by-species composition matrices required to link community data to the traits database. Impediments to the adoption of traits-based biomonitoring relate to the availability, consistency, and applicability of existing trait data. For example, traits generalizations among taxa across biogeographical regions are rare, and no consensus exists relative to the required taxonomic resolution and methodology for traits assessment. Similarly, we must determine if traits form suites that are related to particular stressor effects, and whether significant variation of traits occurs among allopatric populations. Finally, to realize the potential of traits-based approaches in biomonitoring, a concerted effort to standardize terminology is required, along with the establishment of protocols to ease the sharing and merging of broad, geographical trait information. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2011;7:187–197. © 2010 SETAC