Trait-based approaches have emerged as powerful tools for conservation scientists to evaluate the provisioning of ecosystem services (ES). Traits are not restricted to single taxa (i.e., they are taxon-free), enabling comparisons among communities composed of different taxa. Taxon-free approaches are well-suited for making comparisons across timescales, particularly as communities, and the ES imparted by the distribution of traits in them, shift under changing environmental conditions (e.g., climate change; habitat fragmentation). Trait-based approaches enable the inclusion of data from the past (e.g., geohistorical record), which can help provide an important but often absent temporal perspective in assessments of ES capacity. Particularly when used opportunistically with other sources of temporal data (e.g., aerial photographs, census records, traditional ecological knowledge), the paleotrait-based approach can be used in ES assessment to account for the effects of long-acting processes and past management actions, evaluate synergies and tradeoffs, and establish appropriate baselines.
Leveraging studies of modern organisms, paleotraits can be directly or indirectly applied to evaluate ES capacity through time using the geohistorical record. Applied directly, a distribution of traits in a community can be quantified and related to a particular ES. Alternatively, an indirect approach allows for the inclusion of a much broader set of data and requires an additional inferential step: a trait is quantified and related to a particular ecosystem state, which is then used to estimate ES capacity. The resulting information can be incorporated into existing decision support tools for ES management. In this presentation, we develop a case for this paleotrait approach, illustrated with examples, with the goal of expanding the set of tools used in assessments of ES capacity.