Trait-Based Approaches in the Analysis of Stream Fish Communities
Emmanuel A. Frimpong and Paul L. Angermeier
Abstract.—Species traits are used to study the functional organization of fish communities for a range of reasons, from simply reducing data dimensionality to providing mechanistic explanations for observed variation in communities. Ecological and life history traits have been used to understand the basic ecology of fishes and predict (1) species and community responses to habitat and climate alteration, and (2) species extinction, species invasion, and community homogenization. Many approaches in this arena have been developed during the past three decades, but they often have not been integrated with related ecological concepts or subdisciplines, which has led to confusion in terminology. We review 102 studies of species traits and then summarize patterns in traits being used and questions being addressed with trait-based approaches. Overall, studies of fish–habitat relationships that apply habitat templates and hierarchical filters dominate our sample; the most frequently used traits are related to feeding. We define and show the relationships among key terms such as fundamental and realized niches; functional traits, performance, and fitness; tactic, trait-state, syndromes, and strategies; and guilds and functional groups. We propose accelerating research to (1) quantify trait plasticity, (2) identify traits useful for testing ecological hypotheses, (3) model habitat and biotic interactions in communities while explicitly accounting for phylogenetic relationships, (4) explore how traits control community assembly, and (5) document the importance of traits in fish– community responses to anthropogenic change and in delivering ecosystem services. Further synthesis of these topics is still needed to develop concepts, models, and principles that can unify the disparate approaches taken in trait-based analysis of fish communities, link fish community ecology to general community ecology, and inform sustainable management of ecosystems.