Bookmark and Share New global plant database will lead to more reliable predictions of climate change effects


Plant traits (their morphological and physiological properties) determine how plants compete for resources (light, water, soil nutrients), where and how fast they can grow and, ultimately, 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. It contains about three million trait entries for 69,000 out of the world’s 300,000 plant species.

“This huge advance in data availability will lead to more reliable predictions of how vegetation boundaries and ecosystem properties will shift under future climate and land-use change scenarios”, said Dr Ian Wright, one of the Macquarie researchers involved in the project.

“The TRY global database also promises to revolutionise biodiversity research, leading to a new understanding of how not only the numbers of species (biodiversity) but also the variation among species in their traits (functional diversity) together effect ecosystem functions and services.”

The Macquarie researchers involved in the project are from the University’s Department of Biological Sciences and include Profs. Sandy Harrison, Colin Prentice, Mark Westoby and Drs Ian Wright, Michelle Leishman, Tanja Lenz, Belinda Medlyn and PhD student Rachel Gallagher. The researchers have played leading roles in this project: on the project steering committee, developing the project IP policy, making major data contributions to the database, and contributing to the writing of this first publication from the project.

The University’s partners in the international collaborative effort, which is hosted at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany include the University of Leipzig, Germany; IMBIV-CONICET, Argentina; CNRS and University of Paris-Sud, France. However, scientists from106 research institutions worldwide contributed to the overall effort.

TRY is unique as a collaborative initiative, being at the same time communal and worldwide. As Prof. Sandra Díaz from IMBIV-CONICET put it, “The scale of the challenges we are facing demands new ways of doing science, both in terms of the size of the networks and databases, and in the high degree of collaboration”.