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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2012 Jun 19;367(1596):1615-27. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0422.

Trait-based approaches to conservation physiology: forecasting environmental change risks from the bottom up.

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Centre for Invasion Biology, Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University, Private Bag X1, Matieland 7602, South Africa.


Trait-based approaches have long been a feature of physiology and of ecology. While the latter fields drifted apart in the twentieth century, they are converging owing at least partly to growing similarities in their trait-based approaches, which have much to offer conservation biology. The convergence of spatially explicit approaches to understanding trait variation and its ecological implications, such as encapsulated in community assembly and macrophysiology, provides a significant illustration of the similarity of these areas. Both adopt trait-based informatics approaches which are not only providing fundamental biological insights, but are also delivering new information on how environmental change is affecting diversity and how such change may perhaps be mitigated. Such trait-based conservation physiology is illustrated here for each of the major environmental change drivers, specifically: the consequences of overexploitation for body size and physiological variation; the impacts of vegetation change on thermal safety margins; the consequences of changing net primary productivity and human use thereof for physiological variation and ecosystem functioning; the impacts of rising temperatures on water loss in ectotherms; how hemisphere-related variation in traits may affect responses to changing rainfall regimes and pollution; and how trait-based approaches may enable interactions between climate change and biological invasions to be elucidated.

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