A trait-based approach to seagrass ecosystems: state of the art and prospects

In the last two decades, trait-based approaches (TBAs) have advanced different fields of ecological research through establishing novel links between functional traits, environmental drivers and ecosystem functions. However, despite the demonstrated usefulness of these new concepts and methodologies, they are highly underutilized in seagrass ecosystems. In this presentation, I will present our work in the investigation of the research gaps and opportunities in seagrass trait-based research. Through a systematic review of the seagrass literature, we identified that only 7% of the studies included any concept related to TBAs, and that they have been mainly focused in temperate areas. We developed a novel TBF that takes into account the idiosyncrasy of seagrass ecosystems. Seagrasses have a series of particular characteristics that separate them from other angiosperms, like their narrow phylogenetic origin, low taxonomic diversity and high intraspecific variability. This framework allows for the incorporation of these concepts to understand how environmental drivers affect seagrass functional traits, and how these traits affect ecosystem function and service delivery. We applied the lessons learnt developing this framework in our own research in Zanzibar Archipelago (Tanzania), showing how throguh the study of functional traits we can characterize seagrass functional roles, plasticity and originality, showing the trade-offs between pioneer and climax seagrass species. Finally, we show how we can move forward to study the relation between functional traits and ecosystem functions under current and future environmental constraints, giving a holistic view of how TBAs can serve as an overarching framework to integrate seagrass ecological research.