Current Landscape Ecology Reports

, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 12–22 | Cite as

The Scale-Dependent Role of Biological Traits in Landscape Ecology: A Review

  • Andrés Felipe Suárez-Castro
  • Jeremy S. Simmonds
  • Matthew G. E. Mitchell
  • Martine Maron
  • Jonathan R. Rhodes
Scale-Measurement, Influence, and Integration (A Martin and J Holland, Section Editors)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Scale-Measurement, Influence, and Integration


Purpose of Review

We describe current approaches that evaluate how the influence of species traits on the relationship between environmental variables and ecological responses varies among scales (i.e. the scale-dependent role of traits). We quantify which traits and ecological responses have been assessed, and discuss the main challenges associated with quantifying the scale-dependent effect of traits.

Recent Findings

We identify three main approaches used to evaluate the scale-dependent role of traits, based on whether 1) traits are used as predictors or responses, 2) intraspecific variation in single traits is considered, or 3) trait diversity indices are used. Our review identifies several gaps that include the following: 1) evidence of the scale-dependent role of traits is biased towards studies of plants; 2) we lack evidence of whether the traits of interacting species groups are consistently related across spatial scales; and 3) interactions between species traits and landscape structure are usually ignored.


The explicit inclusion of landscape structure effects in trait-based approaches at multiple scales will benefit the integration of approaches from community ecology and landscape ecology. This is important for describing the mechanisms that operate simultaneously across scales and for predicting the impact of landscape change on a broad range of ecological responses, including species diversity and interspecific interactions.


Environmental change Functional diversity Landscape structure Multi-scale 



This work was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project (DP130100218) and a Colombian Ministry of Education (COLCIENCIAS 529) scholarship to A.F.S.C. Martine Maron is supported by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (FT140100516).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

40823_2018_31_MOESM1_ESM.docx (41 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 41 kb)


  1. 1.
    Miguet P, Jackson H, Jackson N, Martin A, Fahrig L. What determines the spatial extent of landscape effects on species? Landscape Ecology. 2016;31(6):1177–94. Scholar
  2. 2.
    Levine JM. The Problem of Pattern and Scale in Ecology: The Robert H. MacArthur Award Lecture. Ecology. 1992;73(6):1943–67. Scholar
  3. 3.
    Jackson HB, Fahrig L. Are ecologists conducting research at the optimal scale? Global Ecology and Biogeography. 2015;24(1):52–63. Scholar
  4. 4.
    de Bello F, Lavorel S, Lavergne S, Albert CH, Boulangeat I, Mazel F, et al. Hierarchical effects of environmental filters on the functional structure of plant communities: a case study in the French Alps. Ecography. 2013;36(3):393–402. Scholar
  5. 5.
    Mori AS, Furukawa T, Sasaki T. Response diversity determines the resilience of ecosystems to environmental change. Biological Reviews. 2013;88(2):349–64. Scholar
  6. 6.
    Suding KN, Lavorel S, Chapin Iii FS, Cornelissen JHC, Diaz S, Garnier E, et al. Scaling environmental change through the community-level: a trait-based response-and-effect framework for plants. Global Change Biology. 2008;14(5):1125–40. Scholar
  7. 7.
    Luck GW, Lavorel S, McIntyre S, Lumb K. Improving the application of vertebrate trait-based frameworks to the study of ecosystem services. Journal of Animal Ecology. 2012;81(5):1065–76. Scholar
  8. 8.
    McGill BJ, Enquist BJ, Weiher E, Westoby M. Rebuilding community ecology from functional traits. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 2006;21(4):178–85. Scholar
  9. 9.
    Messier J, McGill BJ, Lechowicz MJ. How do traits vary across ecological scales? A case for trait-based ecology. Ecology Letters. 2010;13(7):838–48.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Moran EV, Hartig F, Bell DM. Intraspecific trait variation across scales: implications for understanding global change responses. 2016. p. 137-50.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    De Bello F, Vandewalle M, Reitalu T, Lepš J, Prentice HC, Lavorel S, et al. Evidence for scale- and disturbance-dependent trait assembly patterns in dry semi-natural grasslands. Journal of Ecology. 2013;101(5):1237–44. Scholar
  12. 12.
    Laughlin DC, Messier J. Fitness of multidimensional phenotypes in dynamic adaptive landscapes. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 2015;30(8):487–96. Scholar
  13. 13.
    Carmona CP, de Francesco B, Norman WHM, Jan L. Traits Without Borders: Integrating Functional Diversity Across Scales. Traits Without Borders: Integrating Functional Diversity Across Scales. 2016;31:382–94.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    de Bello F, Janecek S, Leps J, Dolezal J, Mackova J, Lanta V, et al. Different plant trait scaling in dry versus wet Central European meadows. Journal of Vegetation Science. 2012;23(4):709–20. Scholar
  15. 15.
    Chalmandrier L, Münkemüller T, Colace MP, Renaud J, Aubert S, Carlson BZ, et al. Spatial scale and intraspecific trait variability mediate assembly rules in alpine grasslands. Journal of Ecology. 2017;105(1):277–87. Scholar
  16. 16.
    McGarigal K, Wan H, Zeller K, Timm B, Cushman S. Multi-scale habitat selection modeling: a review and outlook. Landscape Ecology. 2016;31(6):1161–75. Scholar
  17. 17.
    Gross N, Börger L, Soriano-Morales SI, Le Bagousse-Pinguet Y, Quero JL, García-Gómez M, et al. Uncovering multiscale effects of aridity and biotic interactions on the functional structure of Mediterranean shrublands. Journal of Ecology. 2013;101(3):637–49. Scholar
  18. 18.
    Cote J, Bestion E, Jacob S, Travis J, Legrand D, Baguette M. Evolution of dispersal strategies and dispersal syndromes in fragmented landscapes. Ecography. 2017;40(1):56–73. Scholar
  19. 19.
    Wilson MJ, McTammany ME. Spatial scale and dispersal influence metacommunity dynamics of benthic invertebrates in a large river. Freshwater Science. 2016;35(2):738–47. Scholar
  20. 20.
    Yang J, Zhang GC, Ci XQ, Swenson NG, Cao M, Sha LQ, et al. Functional and phylogenetic assembly in a Chinese tropical tree community across size classes, spatial scales and habitats. Functional Ecology. 2014;28(2):520–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    de Bello F, Price JN, Münkemüller T, Liira J, Zobel K, Zobel M, et al. Functional species pool framework to test for biotic effects on community assembly. Ecology. 2012;93(10):2263–73. Scholar
  22. 22.
    Bourgeois B, Gonzalez E, Vanasse A, Aubin I, Poulin M. Spatial processes structuring riparian plant communities in agroecosystems: implications for restoration. Ecological Applications. 2016;26(7):2103–15. Scholar
  23. 23.
    Mokany K, Roxburgh SH. The importance of spatial scale for trait-abundance relations. Oikos. 2010;119(9):1504–14. Scholar
  24. 24.
    Stirnemann I, Ikin K, Gibbons P, Blanchard W, Lindenmayer D. Measuring habitat heterogeneity reveals new insights into bird community composition. Oecologia. 2015;177(3):733–46. Scholar
  25. 25.
    Ikin K, Barton PS, Stirnemann IA, Stein JR, Michael D, Crane M et al. Multi-Scale Associations between Vegetation Cover and Woodland Bird Communities across a Large Agricultural Region. Plos One. 2014;9(5).
  26. 26.
    Akasaka M, Takada M, Kitagawa R, Igarashi H. Invasive non-native species attributes and invasion extent: examining the importance of grain size. Journal of Vegetation Science. 2012;23(1):33–40. Scholar
  27. 27.
    Barnagaud JY, Papaïx J, Gimenez O, Svenning JC. Dynamic spatial interactions between the native invader Brown-headed Cowbird and its hosts. Diversity and Distributions. 2015;21(5):511–22. Scholar
  28. 28.
    Donadi S, van Der Heide T, Piersma T, van Der Zee EM, Weerman EJ, van de Koppel J, et al. Multi-scale habitat modification by coexisting ecosystem engineers drives spatial separation of macrobenthic functional groups. Oikos. 2015;124(11):1502–10. Scholar
  29. 29.
    Gilroy JJ, Medina Uribe CA, Haugaasen T, Edwards DP. Effect of scale on trait predictors of species responses to agriculture. Conservation Biology. 2015;29(2):463–72. Scholar
  30. 30.
    Violle C, Enquist BJ, McGill BJ, Jiang L, Albert CH, Hulshof C, et al. The return of the variance: intraspecific variability in community ecology. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 2012;27(4):244–52. Scholar
  31. 31.
    Cattarino L, McAlpine CA, Rhodes JR. Spatial scale and movement behaviour traits control the impacts of habitat fragmentation on individual fitness. Journal of Animal Ecology. 2016;85(1):168–77. Scholar
  32. 32.
    Kaiser A, Merckx T, Van Dyck H. The Urban Heat Island and its spatial scale dependent impact on survival and development in butterflies of different thermal sensitivity. Ecology and Evolution. 2016;6(12):4129–40. Scholar
  33. 33.
    Ryder JJ, Pastok D, Hoare MJ, Bottery MJ, Boots M, Knell RK, et al. Spatial variation in food supply, mating behavior, and sexually transmitted disease epidemics. Behavioral Ecology. 2013;24(3):723–9. Scholar
  34. 34.
    Aguiar FC, Cerdeira JO, Martins MJ, Ferreira MT. Riparian forests of Southwest Europe: are functional trait and species composition assemblages constrained by environment? Journal of Vegetation Science. 2013;24(4):628–38. Scholar
  35. 35.
    Carmona CP, Azcárate FM, Bello F, Ollero HS, Lepš J, Peco B. Taxonomical and functional diversity turnover in Mediterranean grasslands: interactions between grazing, habitat type and rainfall. Journal of Applied Ecology. 2012;49(5):1084–93. Scholar
  36. 36.
    Boiffin J, Aubin I, Munson AD. Ecological controls on post-fire vegetation assembly at multiple spatial scales in eastern North American boreal forests. Journal of Vegetation Science. 2015;26(2):360–72. Scholar
  37. 37.
    Concepcion ED, Moretti M, Altermatt F, Nobis MP, Obrist MK. Impacts of urbanisation on biodiversity: the role of species mobility, degree of specialisation and spatial scale. Oikos. 2015;124(12):1571–82. Scholar
  38. 38.
    Brice MH, Pellerin S, Poulin M. Environmental filtering and spatial processes in urban riparian forests. Journal of Vegetation Science. 2016;27(5):1023–35. Scholar
  39. 39.
    Laliberte E, Norton DA, Scott D. Contrasting effects of productivity and disturbance on plant functional diversity at local and metacommunity scales. Journal of Vegetation Science. 2013;24(5):834. Scholar
  40. 40.
    Mayfield MM, Bonser SP, Morgan JW, Aubin I, McNamara S, Vesk PA. What does species richness tell us about functional trait diversity? Predictions and evidence for responses of species and functional trait diversity to land-use change. Global Ecology and Biogeography. 2010;19(4):423–31. Scholar
  41. 41.
    Concostrina-Zubiri L, Pescador DS, Martinez I, Escudero A. Climate and small scale factors determine functional diversity shifts of biological soil crusts in Iberian drylands. Biodiversity and Conservation. 2014;23(7):1757–70. Scholar
  42. 42.
    Donner DM, Anderson D, Eklund D. St. Pierre M. Large-scale forest composition influences northern goshawk nesting in Wisconsin. Journal of Wildlife Management. 2013;77(3):495–504. Scholar
  43. 43.
    Craven D, Filotas E, Angers VA, Messier C. Evaluating resilience of tree communities in fragmented landscapes: linking functional response diversity with landscape connectivity. Diversity and Distributions. 2016;22(5):505–18. Scholar
  44. 44.
    Kazakou E, Violle C, Roumet C, Navas ML, Vile D, Kattge J, et al. Are trait-based species rankings consistent across data sets and spatial scales? Journal of Vegetation Science. 2014;25(1):235–47. Scholar
  45. 45.
    Spasojevic MJ, Turner BL, Myers JA. When does intraspecific trait variation contribute to functional beta-diversity? Journal of Ecology. 2016;104(2):487–96. Scholar
  46. 46.
    Bolnick DI, Amarasekare P, Araújo MS, Bürger R, Levine JM, Novak M, et al. Why intraspecific trait variation matters in community ecology. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 2011;26(4):183–92. Scholar
  47. 47.
    Ewers RM, Didham RK. Confounding factors in the detection of species responses to habitat fragmentation. Biological Reviews. 2006;81(1):117–42. Scholar
  48. 48.
    Kosydar AJ, Conquest LL, Tewksbury JJ. Can life histories predict the effects of habitat fragmentation? a meta-analysis with terrestrial mammals. Applied Ecology and Environmental Research. 2014;12(2):505–21. Scholar
  49. 49.
    Bregman TP, Sekercioglu CH, Tobias JA. Global patterns and predictors of bird species responses to forest fragmentation: Implications for ecosystem function and conservation. Biological Conservation. 2014;169:372–83. Scholar
  50. 50.
    Ries L, Sisk TD. What is an edge species? The implications of sensitivity to habitat edges. Oikos. 2010;119(10):1636-42.
  51. 51.
    Delattre T, Baguette M, Burel F, Stevens VM, Quénol H, Vernon P. Interactive effects of landscape and weather on dispersal. Oikos. 2013;122(11):1576–85. Scholar
  52. 52.
    Prokopenko CM, Boyce MS, Avgar T. Extent-dependent habitat selection in a migratory large herbivore: road avoidance across scales. Landscape Ecology. 2017;32(2):313–25. Scholar
  53. 53.
    van Beest FM, Rivrud IM, Loe LE, Milner JM, Mysterud A. What determines variation in home range size across spatiotemporal scales in a large browsing herbivore? Journal of Animal Ecology. 2011;80(4):771. Scholar
  54. 54.
    Akasaka T, Akasaka M, Nakamura F. Scale-independent significance of river and riparian zones on three sympatric Myotis species in an agricultural landscape. Biological Conservation. 2012;145(1):15–23. Scholar
  55. 55.
    Lauterbach D, Romermann C, Jeltsch F, Ristow M. Factors driving plant rarity in dry grasslands on different spatial scales: a functional trait approach. Biodiversity and Conservation. 2013;22(10):2337–52. Scholar
  56. 56.
    Moran-Ordonez A, Pavlova A, Pinder AM, Sim L, Sunnucks P, Thompson RM, et al. Aquatic communities in arid landscapes: local conditions, dispersal traits and landscape configuration determine local biodiversity. Diversity and Distributions. 2015;21(10):1230–41. Scholar
  57. 57.
    Moreira B, Tavsanoglu Ç, Pausas J. Local versus regional intraspecific variability in regeneration traits. Oecologia. 2012;168(3):671–7. Scholar
  58. 58.
    Garnier E, Lavorel S, Ansquer P, Castro H, Cruz P, Dolezal J, et al. Assessing the Effects of Land-use Change on Plant Traits, Communities and Ecosystem Functioning in Grasslands: A Standardized Methodology and Lessons from an Application to 11 European Sites. Annals of Botany. 2007;99(5):967–85. Scholar
  59. 59.
    Albert CH, Thuiller W, Yoccoz NG, Douzet R, Aubert S, Lavorel S. A multi-trait approach reveals the structure and the relative importance of intra- vs. interspecific variability in plant traits. Functional Ecology. 2010;24(6):1192. Scholar
  60. 60.
    Spasojevic MJ, Suding KN. Inferring community assembly mechanisms from functional diversity patterns: the importance of multiple assembly processes. Journal of Ecology. 2012;100(3):652–61. Scholar
  61. 61.
    Belmaker J, Jetz W. Spatial Scaling of Functional Structure in Bird and Mammal Assemblages. American Naturalist. 2013;181(4):464–78. Scholar
  62. 62.
    Krasnov BR, Shenbrot GI, Khokhlova IS, Stanko M, Morand S, Mouillot D. Assembly rules of ectoparasite communities across scales: combining patterns of abiotic factors, host composition, geographic space, phylogeny and traits. Ecography. 2015;38(2):184–97. Scholar
  63. 63.
    Perovic D, Gamez-Virues S, Borschig C, Klein AM, Krauss J, Steckel J, et al. Configurational landscape heterogeneity shapes functional community composition of grassland butterflies. Journal of Applied Ecology. 2015;52(2):505–13. Scholar
  64. 64.
    Gunton RM, Poyry J. Scale-specific spatial density dependence in parasitoids: a multi-factor meta-analysis. Functional Ecology. 2016;30(9):1501–10. Scholar
  65. 65.
    Green SJ, Côté IM. Trait-based diet selection: prey behaviour and morphology predict vulnerability to predation in reef fish communities. Journal of Animal Ecology. 2014;83(6):1451–60. Scholar
  66. 66.
    Gothe E, Angeler DG, Sandin L. Metacommunity structure in a small boreal stream network. Journal of Animal Ecology. 2013;82(2):449–58. Scholar
  67. 67.
    Morante JC, Arroyo-Rodriguez V, Faria D. Patterns and predictors of beta-diversity in the fragmented Brazilian Atlantic forest: a multiscale analysis of forest specialist and generalist birds. Journal of Animal Ecology. 2016;85(1):240–50. Scholar
  68. 68.
    Eklöf A, Jacob U, Kopp J, Bosch J, Castro-Urgal R, Chacoff NP, et al. The dimensionality of ecological networks. Ecology Letters. 2013;16(5):577–83. Scholar
  69. 69.
    Morales-Castilla I, Matias MG, Gravel D, Araújo MB. Inferring biotic interactions from proxies. Trends in Ecology & Evolution. 30(6):347–56.
  70. 70.
    Dehling DM, Topfer T, Schaefer HM, Jordano P, Bohning-Gaese K, Schleuning M. Functional relationships beyond species richness patterns: trait matching in plant-bird mutualisms across scales. Global Ecology and Biogeography. 2014;23(10):1085–93. Scholar
  71. 71.
    Butterfield BJ, Suding KN. Single-trait functional indices outperform multi-trait indices in linking environmental gradients and ecosystem services in a complex landscape. Journal of Ecology. 2013;101(1):9–17. Scholar
  72. 72.
    Zhu L, Fu B, Zhu H, Wang C, Jiao L, Zhou J. Trait choice profoundly affected the ecological conclusions drawn from functional diversity measures. Scientific Reports. 2017;7(1):3643. Scholar
  73. 73.
    Kattge J, Díaz S, Lavorel S, Prentice IC, Leadley P, Bönisch G, et al. TRY – a global database of plant traits. Global Change Biology. 2011;17(9):2905–35. Scholar
  74. 74.
    Salguero-Gómez R, Jones OR, Archer CR, Buckley YM, Che-Castaldo J, Caswell H, et al. The compadre Plant Matrix Database: an open online repository for plant demography. Journal of Ecology. 2015;103(1):202–18. Scholar
  75. 75.
    Wilman H, Belmaker J, Simpson J, De La Rosa C, Rivadeneira MM, Jetz W. EltonTraits 1.0: Species-level foraging attributes of the world's birds and mammals. Ecology. 2014;95(7):2027. Scholar
  76. 76.
    Wood SA, Russell R, Hanson D, Williams RJ, Dunne JA. Effects of spatial scale of sampling on food web structure. Ecology and Evolution. 2015;5(17):3769–82. Scholar
  77. 77.
    Kissling WD, Dormann CF, Groeneveld J, Hickler T, Kühn I, McInerny GJ, et al. Towards novel approaches to modelling biotic interactions in multispecies assemblages at large spatial extents. Journal of Biogeography. 2012;39(12):2163–78. Scholar
  78. 78.
    Stouffer DB, Bascompte J. Understanding food-web persistence from local to global scales. Ecology letters. 2010;13(2):154. Scholar
  79. 79.
    Anderson KE, Inouye BD, Underwood N. Can inducible resistance in plants cause herbivore aggregations? Spatial patterns in an inducible plant/herbivore model. Ecology. 2015;96(10):2758–70. Scholar
  80. 80.
    Nash KL, Graham NAJ, Jennings S, Wilson SK, Bellwood DR. Herbivore cross-scale redundancy supports response diversity and promotes coral reef resilience. Journal of Applied Ecology. 2016;53(3):646–55. Scholar
  81. 81.
    Spasojevic MJ, Bahlai CA, Bradley BA, Butterfield BJ, Tuanmu MN, Sistla S, et al. Scaling up the diversity-resilience relationship with trait databases and remote sensing data: the recovery of productivity after wildfire. Global Change Biology. 2016;22(4):1421–32. Scholar
  82. 82.
    Martinez OJA, Fremier AK, Gunter S, Bendana ZR, Vierling L, Galbraith SM, et al. Scaling up functional traits for ecosystem services with remote sensing: concepts and methods. Ecology and Evolution. 2016;6(13):4359–71. Scholar
  83. 83.
    Peringer A, Schulze KA, Stupariu I, Stupariu MS, Rosenthal G, Buttler A, et al. Multi-scale feedbacks between tree regeneration traits and herbivore behavior explain the structure of pasture-woodland mosaics. Landscape Ecology. 2016;31(4):913–27. Scholar
  84. 84.
    Mitchell MGE, Bennett EM, Gonzalez A. Linking Landscape Connectivity and Ecosystem Service Provision: Current Knowledge and Research Gaps. Ecosystems. 2013;16(5):894–908. Scholar
  85. 85.
    Flynn DFB, Gogol-Prokurat M, Nogeire T, Molinari N, Richers BT, Lin BB, et al. Loss of functional diversity under land use intensification across multiple taxa. Ecology Letters. 2009;12(1):22–33. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrés Felipe Suárez-Castro
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jeremy S. Simmonds
    • 1
    • 2
  • Matthew G. E. Mitchell
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Martine Maron
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jonathan R. Rhodes
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation ScienceThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.School of Earth and Environmental SciencesThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.Institute for Resources, Environment & SustainabilityUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

Personalised recommendations