The Net Effect of Functional Traits on Fitness

Daniel C. Laughlin, Jennifer R. Gremer, Peter B. Adler, Rachel M. Mitchell, Margaret M. Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Generalizing the effect of traits on performance across species may be achievable if traits explain variation in population fitness. However, testing relationships between traits and vital rates to infer effects on fitness can be misleading. Demographic trade-offs can generate variation in vital rates that yield equal population growth rates, thereby obscuring the net effect of traits on fitness. To address this problem, we describe a diversity of approaches to quantify intrinsic growth rates of plant populations, including experiments beyond range boundaries, density-dependent population models built from long-term demographic data, theoretical models, and methods that leverage widely available monitoring data. Linking plant traits directly to intrinsic growth rates is a fundamental step toward rigorous predictions of population dynamics and community assembly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1037-1047
Number of pages11
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • comparative functional ecology
  • demographic trade-offs
  • density dependence
  • intrinsic growth rate
  • plant community assembly
  • population growth rate
  • vital rates

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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