Knowledge for Development

Global plant database set to promote biodiversity research and Earth-system sciences


Date: 23/07/2011


The world's largest database on plants' functional properties, or traits, has been published. Scientists compiled three million traits for 69,000 out of the world's +/- 300,000 plant species. The achievement rests on a worldwide collaboration of scientists from 106 research institutions. The initiative, known as TRY, is hosted at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany and promises to become an essential tool for biodiversity research and Earth-system sciences.

Plant traits – their morphological and physiological properties – determine how plants compete for resources, e.g. light, water, soil nutrients, and where and how fast they can grow. Ultimately they determine how plants influence ecosystem properties such as rates of nutrient cycling, water use and carbon dioxide uptake. A major bottleneck to modelling the effects of climate change at ecosystem and whole-earth scales has been a lack of trait data for sufficiently large numbers of species.

The first release of the TRY database was published this week in the journal Global Change Biology. The availability of plant trait data in the unified global database promises to support a paradigm shift in Earth system sciences. Indeed, analyses of the TRY database demonstrate for the first time on a global scale that most of the observed trait variation is represented by differences among plant species. (Eurekalert, 1/07/2011)

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