Navigating Coral Trait Space
Corals are major contributors to a range of key ecosystem functions on tropical reefs, including calcification, photosynthesis, nutrient cycling and the provision of habitat structure. The abundance of corals is declining at local and regional scales, and the species composition of assemblages is responding to escalating human pressures, including anthropogenic global warming. An urgent challenge is to understand the functional consequences of these shifts in abundance and composition in different biogeographical contexts. ’Trait space’ can address this problem by plotting taxa according to a series of important attributes, such as morphology, physiology and life history. In trait space, similar species fall into clusters that are equivalent to functional groups, while unique species can be identified as outliers. This talk will first explore coral trait space, and navigate its benefits and drawbacks as a tool to understand biodiversity and ecosystem function on reefs. The talk will subsequently follow trait space through time to quantify the consequences of ongoing change in different locations.