Ecological and Environmental Change Research Group

Plant Functional Traits Course 3

The 2018 International Plant Functional Traits Course was held at the Wayqecha Cloud Forest Biological Station, Peru 12-23 March 2018

A view of the Andean treeline with trees on the left and grassland on the right
Imma Oliveras

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The 2018 International Plant Functional Traits Course offered a hands-on, field-based exploration of plant functional traits, along with experience in the use of plant-trait data in climate-change research and ecosystem ecology. Trait-based ecology incorporates an important set of methods and new approaches that enable a more powerful approach to predict how climate and biotic interactions shape the diversity of communities and the functioning of ecosystems. This course provided students with essential background information and the skills needed for researching trait-based ecology.

The course addressed several core scientific questions with an emphasis on key skills: (i) collecting original data in the field, (ii) developing data management skills, (iii) developing computational and statistical skills; and (iv) generating summaries of our findings. Students were given hands-on instruction in the theory and methods of ecophysiology, community ecology, population biology, and computational biology.

The course was held in the Andes in Peru (in the Puna grassland and alpine or Janca habitats), 12-23 March 2018. The fieldwork was carried out along an elevational gradient (3000m to 5000m a.s.l.) that ranges from the treeline of tropical high-elevation forest up through the Puna and alpine ecosystems. Participants were introduced to the ecological and taxonomic diversity of the region, and were involved in the following projects:

  1. Assessing the role of climate and biotic interactions on plant community leaf trait composition
  2. Assessing how temperature variation and leaf functional trait influences leaf ecophysiology
  3. Quantifying how plant communities and local populations respond to past disturbance and experimental fire treatments along the elevational gradient
  4. Measuring how functional trait composition influences ecosystem functioning by measuring CO2-flux within and across plant communities.

The course was aimed at graduate students – both MSc and PhD – and gave an introduction to trait-based ecology. Participants worked with international instructors and in teams and focussed on data collection in the field in order to address a specific research question. They gained experience in measuring plant functional traits and learnt standard protocols and several methods. They also learnt about the structure and analysis of trait data, had the opportunity to analyse and interpret such data, and became familiar with taking measurements using ecophsyiological equipment including the LiCor 6400 and LiCor 7500.


The course was organised by Professors V. Vandvik from the University of Bergen in Norway and B. Enquist from the University of Arizona in the USA.