Predicting ecosystem responses to global change is a major challenge in ecology. A critical step in that challenge is to understand how changing environmental conditions influence processes across levels of ecological organization. While direct scaling from individual to ecosystem dynamics can lead to robust and mechanistic predictions, new approaches are needed to appropriately translate questions through the community level. Species invasion, loss, and turnover all necessitate this scaling through community processes, but predicting how such changes may influence ecosystem function is notoriously difficult. We suggest that community-level dynamics can be incorporated into scaling predictions using a trait-based response–effect framework that differentiates the community response to environmental change (predicted by response traits) and the effect of that change on ecosystem processes (predicted by effect traits). We develop a response-and-effect functional framework, concentrating on how the relationships among species' response, effect, and abundance can lead to general predictions concerning the magnitude and direction of the influence of environmental change on function. We then detail several key research directions needed to better scale the effects of environmental change through the community level. These include (1) effect and response trait characterization, (2) linkages between response-and-effect traits, (3) the importance of species interactions on trait expression, and (4) incorporation of feedbacks across multiple temporal scales. Increasing rates of extinction and invasion that are modifying communities worldwide make such a research agenda imperative.
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