Interpreting marine benthic ecosystem functioning in coastal waters: validating the biological trait concept

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Coastal areas harbour high biodiversity, but are simultaneously affected by rapid degradations of species and habitats due to human interactions. Such alterations also affect the functioning of the ecosystem, which is primarily governed by the characteristics or traits expressed by the organisms present. Marine benthic fauna is involved in numerous functions such as organic matter transformation and transport, secondary production, oxygen transport as well as nutrient cycling. Approaches utilising the variety of faunal traits to assess benthic community functioning have rapidly increased and shown the need for further development of the concept. In this thesis, I applied biological trait analysis that allows for assessments of a multitude of categorical traits and thus evaluation of multiple functional aspects simultaneously. I determined the functional trait structure, diversity and variability of coastal zoobenthic communities in the Baltic Sea. The measures were related to recruitment processes, habitat heterogeneity, large-scale environmental and taxonomic gradients as well as anthropogenic impacts. The studies comprised spatial scales from metres to thousands of kilometres, and temporal scales spanning one season as well as a decade.

The benthic functional structure was found to vary within and between seagrass landscape microhabitats and four different habitats within a coastal bay, in papers I and II respectively. Expressions of trait categories varied within habitats, while the density of individuals was found to drive the functional differences between habitats. The findings in paper III unveiled high trait richness of Finnish coastal benthos (25 traits and 102 cateogries) although this differed between areas high and low in salinity and human pressure. In paper IV, the natural reduction in taxonomic richness across the Baltic Sea led to an overall reduction in function. However, functional richness in terms of number of trait categories remained comparatively high at low taxon richness. Changes in number of taxa within trait categories were also subtle and some individual categories were maintained or even increased. The temporal analysis in papers I and III highlighted generalities in trait expressions and dominant trait categories in a seagrass landscape as well as a “type organism” for the northern Baltic Sea. Some initial findings were made in all four papers on the role of common and rare species and traits for benthic community functioning. The findings show that common and rare species may not always express the same trait categories in relation to each other. Rare species in general did not express unique functional properties.

In order to advance the understanding of the approach, I also assessed some issues concerning the limitations of the concept. This was conducted by evaluating the link between trait category and taxonomic richness using especially univariate measures. My results also show the need to collaborate nationally and internationally on safeguarding the utility of taxonomic and trait data. The findings also highlight the importance of including functional trait information into current efforts in marine spatial planning and biomonitoring.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Print ISBNs978-952-12-3023-3
Publication statusPublished - 2014
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • functional diversity
  • Biological trait analysis
  • Community
  • zoobenthos
  • Baltic sea

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