Assess ecosystem resilience: Linking response and effect traits to environmental variability

M. Sterk, G. Gort, A. Klimkowska, J. van Ruijven, A.J.A. van Teeffelen, G.W.W. Wamelink

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45 Citations (Scopus)


Disturbances, nature as well as human, are putting constant pressure on ecosystems. These include small scale disturbances like a falling tree, but also large scale disturbances like eutrophication and climate change. Resilience is a useful indicator to assess whether an ecosystem has the capacity to maintain functioning with environmental variability. In this study we tested whether plant functional traits can be distinguished to develop a response-and-effect framework for general predictions concerning resilience. We defined response traits to assess the system's resistance to disturbance, and effect traits to assess its recovery after disturbance. We used a dataset with 932 vegetation plots containing 104 species from a selected wetland area in The Netherlands. The environmental variability was related to response traits and the response traits to effect traits with RLQ analysis, fourth-corner analysis and Spearman's rank correlation. As a result, combinations of traits that specify effects of environmental change on ecosystem resilience were found. A strong resistance to environmental variability was shown, and consequently, a positive effect on resilience. Due to correlations between response and effect traits, combinations of traits were identified having a variable effect on the resilience of the system. In this way this study argues to further develop a response-and-effect framework to understand and assess ecosystem resilience. The selection of traits is system-specific, and therefore, one should only select those response and effect traits that differentiate between response to environmental variability and effects on ecosystem functioning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-27
JournalEcological Indicators
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • plant functional traits
  • european flora
  • species traits
  • climate-change
  • biodiversity
  • diversity
  • database
  • conservation
  • landscape
  • services


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