By Daniel Kissling and Jens Kattge

September 18, 2018

In a new perspective paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution, a group of international biodiversity researchers including GEO BON members shows how trait variability within species can be incorporated into Essential Biodiversity Variables. Including such trait variability will enable the assessment of how organisms respond to global change and can futher contribute to international policy goals on biodiversity such as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets set by the Convention for Biological Diversity.

Based on a press release by the University of Amsterdam:

Species traits

The published research is the outcome of a workshop organized by the H2020 project GLOBIS-B ‘GLOBal Infrastructure for Supporting Biodiversity research’ funded by the European Commission During this workshop in March 2017, a group of 21 scientific experts discussed the requirements for developing the EBV class ‘Species Traits’ which can cover for example measurements of phenology, morphology, reproduction, physiology or migratory behaviour.

Daniel Kissling, lead author of the paper and researcher at the University of Amsterdam says: “Currently there is no detailed framework for the empirical derivation of most EBVs. In our paper, we provide a conceptual framework with practical guidelines for building global, integrated and reusable EBV data products of species traits. This facilitates the monitoring of intra-specific trait changes in response to global change and human pressures, with the aim to use species trait information in national and international policy assessments.

Co-author Jens Kattge, group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena co-leads the recently established GEO BON working group on species traits. He adds: “So far species traits are successfully used in local biodiversity assessments: reduced size of mature individuals in the catch of fish and in the harvest of trees indicates overexploitation of these natural resources; reduced foliation and leaf nutrient concentration indicates forest stress, e.g. due to acid rain; changes of bird migration patterns and plant phenology indicate species responses to climate change.”

Biodiversity policy

The international research team assessed the societal relevance of species traits and highlighted their underrepresentation in current biodiversity change indicators that are used to assess policy targets at global scale, such as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets set by the Convention for Biological Diversity.

Kissling: “I was surprised that there is such a lack of species trait information in current policy assessments of biodiversity change. We outline the steps needed for data-intensive science and effective global coordination to advance the inclusion of species trait information into indicators of biodiversity change, and how collected trait data can be shared in an open and machine-readable way.

Making biodiversity data available for policy assessments requires substantial financial and in kind investments from universities, research infrastructures, governments, space agencies and other funding bodies.

If you are interested in joining the Species Traits working group, you can register on our website: and contact the leads of the group.

Further Information

More on the Species Traits WG:

Full Press release by the University of Amsterdam:

News item by the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv):

Globis-B project:


Daniel Kissling

Head of Biogeography & Macroecology (BIOMAC) lab & Associate Professor of Quantitative Biodiversity

University of Amsterdam (UvA)

Co-lead of the EBV Data Task Force


Jens Kattge

Head of the Research Group Functional Biogeography

Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry

Co-lead of the Species Traits Working Group


Original Publication

Kissling, W. Daniel, Ramona Walls, Anne Bowser, Matthew O. Jones, Jens Kattge, Donat Agosti, Josep Amengual, et al. 2018. “Towards global data products of Essential Biodiversity Variables on species traits”. Nature Ecology & Evolution. Download as PDF |

Measuring species traits for biodiversity policy goals

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