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European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet)

New EMODnet biology R package: Btrait: Working with biological density, taxonomy, and trait composition data

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Response traits are potentially useful in determining species vulnerability to natural and human-mediated disturbance, while effect traits inform on functions that species may ensure in the ecosystem.

Notwithstanding this clear application potential of traits, in ecological studies trait distributions are not as commonly used as more traditional metrics of species diversity and community composition. Partly this is because combining traits with field density data is far from trivial.

The group of medium-sized animals that lives in and on marine sediments, the macrobenthos, is particularly well suited for trait-based analysis. It is ubiquitous in marine sediments, shows a large diversity of life cycles, and many members of this group ensure crucial ecosystem functions. Numerous compilations of biological trait data sets have recently been published for the marine benthos. In addition, EMODnet biology hosts several detailed macrobenthos data sets that, when combined with trait information, may allow to answer novel research questions in species community ecology.

The new R-package, Btrait (Soetaert and Beauchard, 2023), allows to combine species-environment with species-trait data to obtain trait–environment relationships. Capitalising on the recent compilations of density and trait data, the package also contains several datasets, used to demonstrate its potential. Two macrobenthic occurrence data sets, from the Dutch sector of the North Sea (MWTL, Dutch national monitoring), and the entire North Sea (NSBS, North Sea Benthos Survey data) were extracted from EMODnet  biology. The package also contains several published trait data sets, and a new one (Beauchard et al., 2023).

Changes in ecosystem functions following perturbations are paramount in the marine environment. The combination of traits and density data sets in the new R-package can be used to estimate the impact of environmental stress or disturbance, such as induced by bottom trawling, on macrofaunal distributions, biodiversity, as well as on the ecosystem functions this group of animals provides.



Karline Soetaert, Olivier Beauchard (2023). R-package Btrait: Working with Biological density, taxonomy, and trait composition data. Data product created under the European Marine Observation Data Network (EMODnet) Biology Phase IV.

Olivier Beauchard, Kari Elsa Ellingsen, Murray S.A. Thompson, Gerjan Piet, Pascal Laffargue, Karline Soetaert, 2023. Assessing sea floor functional diversity and vulnerability. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 708, 21-43. DOI:, DOI:10.3354/meps14270