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photo: Corel Draw

Plant functional types

Refining Plant Functional Classifications for Earth System Modeling
This joint IGBP-DIVERSITAS Fast-Track Initiative was launched in 2006 with the goal to re-consider plant functional classifications used for dynamic vegetation models, based on recent progress of fundamental work on plant functional traits. The aim was to deliver an improved plant functional classification scheme for the improvement of large-scale vegetation models that are needed for global and regional assessments (e.g. IPCC and future biodiversity assessments) and for the improvement of models of the Earth System.

Plant functional type proposalPDF (pdf, 103.1 kB)


Sandra Lavorel (IGBP-SC),
Colin Prentice (AIMES),
Sandra Díaz (GLP), and
Paul Leadley (DIVERSITAS)

Specific objectives

1. To design a new basis for plant functional classifications to be used in the new generation of large-scale dynamic vegetation models

2. To identify existing data and data gaps for its implementation

3. To conduct a first test, at least for one or a few regions where suitable data and models are currently available


  • The TRY data base, built under the responsibility and with heavy commitment from the Max Planck Institute in Jena (Christian Worth, Jens Kattge, Gerhard Bönisch). It is a collation of existing individual data bases for 47 functional traits (selected at the Alicante workshop). Currently, there are over 1.9 M trait records for over 600,000 species world wide. About half of those data are georeferenced (location of species measured).
  • Intellectual Property Guidelines. This step is key to convince contributors to provide their data while keeping full control of their use for modeling and data analysis. Projects and data access are, for the first phase, restricted to network members, including all data contributors. Furthermore, a steering committee is in charge of fast-track project review and approval.


  • Workshop 1, Alicante, Spain, February 2007. A draft of the classification was established, with a list of core traits relevant to the response of vegetation to fast and slow environmental changes.
  • Workshop 2, Paris, France, March 2008. The structure and preliminary contents of the TRY database were presented. First model-data integration activities were initiated. The intellectual property guidelines were established.
  • Workshop 3, Cape Town, October 2010. An outline of a manuscript showcasing TRY was produced. Priority modelling projects to be developed in a fast-track mode over the next 12 months were identified. A revision of the intellectual property guidelines was approved.
  • The TRY team attended two other workshops (New York City, December 2007 and Montpellier, November 2009).


  • Sandra Diaz, Sandra Lavorel, Francesco de Bello, Fabien Quétier, Karl Grigulis and T. Matthew Robson (2007) Incorporating plant funcional diversity effects in ecosystem service assessments. PNAS 104 (52).
  • Kattge J, Knorr W, Raddatz T, Wirth C (2009) Quantifying photosynthetic capacity and nitrogen use efficiency for earth system models. Global Change Biology 15: 976-991 (selected for Faculty of 1000 Biology).
  • Kattge J, Ogle K, Boenisch G, Díaz S, Lavorel S, Madin J, Nadrowski N, Nöllert S, Sartor K, Wirth C (in review) A generic structure for plant trait databases. Methods in Ecology and Evolution.
  • Jens Kattge et al., (in preparation) “Constraining the parameterization of terrestrial biosphere models by observed ranges of plant functional traits." This paper presents an analysis of the ranges of the main traits relevant for current and future dynamic global vegetation models in a geo-climatic context, and compares these to current model parameterizations for terrestrial biosphere models.
  • Jens Kattge and all project participants. Giving a global TRY to functional diversity: a worldwide database of plant traits. To be submitted to Global Change Biology. This paper will present an analysis of the ranges of the main traits relevant for current and future DGVMs in a geo-climatic context, and compare these to current model parameterizations for terrestrial biosphere models. Submission is expected in the first half of 2010.
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IGBP closed at the end of 2015. This website is no longer updated.

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