- Abstract Disturbances' role in shaping communities is well documented but highly disputed. We suggest replacing the overused two-trait trade-off approach with a functional group scheme, constructed from combinations of four key traits that represent four classes of species' responses to disturbances. Using model results and field observations from sites affected by two highly different disturbances, we demonstrated that popular dichotomous trade-offs are not sufficient to explain community dynamics, even if some emerge under certain conditions. Without disturbances, competition was only sufficient to predict species survival but not relative success, which required some escape mechanism (e.g., long-term dormancy). With highly predictable and large-scale disturbances, successful species showed a combination of high individual tolerance to disturbance and, more surprisingly, high competitive ability. When disturbances were less predictable, high individual tolerance and long-term seed dormancy were favored, due to higher environmental uncertainty. Our study demonstrates that theories relying on a small number of predefined trade-offs among traits (e.g., competition-colonization trade-off) may lead to unrealistic results. We suggest that the understanding of disturbance-community relationships can be significantly improved by employing sets of relevant trait assemblies instead of the currently common approach in which trade-offs are assumed in advance.