For some time it has been known that the size, form, and function of organisms change depending on the environmental conditions where they live, but the causes and consequences of this diversity are still not well understood. Functional biogeography attempts to answer these questions by centering on the concept of the functional trait, defined as any characteristic of an organism which affects its demography (i.e., its establishment, growth, survival, or fertility). Functional traits make it possible to relate organism characteristics with the properties of the systems in which they exist (communities and ecosystems), and are complementary to the more traditional approaches based on geographical species distributions.
Functional biogeography puts an emphasis on how functional traits vary on broad geographic scales (regional, global), and in this sense the field is a relatively new one. With this approach, the field contributes very powerful tools for identifying the regions most vulnerable to environmental changes (climate change, among them) and determining the impacts of these environmental changes on ecosystem function and services provided to society.
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