Estimation of functional diversity and species traits from ecological monitoring data


The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss define a strong need for functional diversity monitoring. While the availability of high-quality ecological monitoring data is increasing, the quantification of functional diversity so far requires the identification of species traits, for which data are harder to obtain. However, the traits that are relevant for the ecological function of a species also shape its performance in the environment and hence, should be reflected indirectly in its spatiotemporal distribution. Thus, it may be possible to reconstruct these traits from a sufficiently extensive monitoring dataset. Here, we use diffusion maps, a deterministic and de facto parameter-free analysis method, to reconstruct a proxy representation of the species’ traits directly from monitoring data and use it to estimate functional diversity. We demonstrate this approach with both simulated data and real-world phytoplankton monitoring data from the Baltic Sea. We anticipate that wider application of this approach to existing data could greatly advance the analysis of changes in functional biodiversity.

PNAS 119: e2118156119