Managing ecosystems to ensure the provision of multiple ecosystem services is a key challenge for applied ecology. Functional traits are receiving increasing attention as the main ecological attributes by which different organisms and biological communities influence ecosystem services through their effects on underlying ecosystem processes. Here we synthesize concepts and empirical evidence on linkages between functional traits and ecosystem services across different trophic levels. Most of the 247 studies reviewed considered plants and soil invertebrates, but quantitative trait-service associations have been documented for a range of organisms and ecosystems, illustrating the wide applicability of the trait approach. Within each trophic level, specific processes are affected by a combination of traits while particular key traits are simultaneously involved in the control of multiple processes. These multiple associations between traits and ecosystem processes can help to identify predictable trait-service clusters that depend on several trophic levels, such as clusters of traits of plants and soil organisms that underlie nutrient cycling, herbivory, and fodder and fibre production. We propose that the assessment of trait-service clusters will represent a crucial step in ecosystem service monitoring and in balancing the delivery of multiple, and sometimes conflicting, services in ecosystem management. © 2010 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.