A trait-based approach to ecology and paleoecology offers several powerful advantages over approaches relying on species identity. First, traits are more directly connected to and influenced by the environment. Second, across the fossil record, species come and go, but certain traits may remain and be influenced similarly by environment regardless of which species carries the trait. Thus, if we want to understand how climate influences species over long time scales, focusing on their traits is a powerful way of gaining insight.
We have several different projects aimed at using traits to understand how organisms interact with their environments.
2) What are the relationships between specific traits and the environment, now and in the past? This work is done in collaboration with members of iCCB, particularly Michelle Lawing, Jussi Eronen, David Polly, and Catherine Graham.
3) Can we use mammal traits to infer past biomes? In collaboration with Jack Williams, Catherine Badgley, Russ Graham, Eric Grimm, and Steve Jackson, we are reconstructing late Quaternary biomes across North America using mammal traits and functional types and comparing reconstructing with those based on fossil-pollen.