Function Over Form

Originally published in PLOS Ecology Community

In April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, releasing millions of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Despite attempts to slow the spread, oil would inevitably blanket the gulf coast marshes and beaches.  These vulnerable areas provide crucial ecosystem services as well as home base for a vibrant seafood industry. After the disaster, environmentalists and fishermen alike asked ecologists to tell them: What’s going to happen to this place? How will the ecosystem change after the sudden coating of oil?

For most situations, however, ecologists still struggle to precisely forecast community trajectories.  The scuffle to survive, compete for resources, and flourish after a sudden event differs by so many factors that accurately modelling exactly which species will return in which proportions is a nearly impossible task.

One session, OOS 20: Quantifying Responses of Functional Community Assemblages to Disturbance: A Predictive Tool in a Changing World, at The Ecological Society of America proposed an alternative predictive tool: functional traits.

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