Open Traits Workshop

Venue: TBD, New Orleans
Dates: August 4-5, 2018
Fee: A small fee may be required of participants to cover the cost of a meeting space.


There is substantial interest in species’ traits across fields ranging from ecology and evolution to agriculture and climate modeling. Despite widespread interest, we still have incomplete knowledge of how traits vary within and across species, locations, and time. Even within relatively well-sampled taxa (e.g. mammals), many ecologically important traits are not known, and some species lack any trait information at all. Large trait databases and datasets have made progress on this issue by aggregating traits from numerous sources, however, even these datasets are notably deficient for many traits/species. Efforts to catalogue trait diversity at a global scale are hampered by:

1) Lack of access to open trait data;
2) Lack of a common data/metadata standard;
3) Lack of Open source tools and databases;
4) Incomplete sampling within and among taxa;
5) Integration with more metadata and scientific context of trait collection; and
6) Lack of coordinated efforts within and among working groups.
This workshop will be part of a coordinated, international series of meetings focused on facilitating open collaboration and standardization in the collection of trait data. While the primary aim of this workshop will focus on open science and metadata standards, we will also discuss the outcomes of previous workshops in this series as well as future directions for these efforts.

Primary Aim

1) Developing a common “Trait Core” data standard that builds upon, and is compatible with, Darwin Core standards ( but is also informed by past efforts at compiling standards and a general trait thesaurus. This draft standard will then be further developed in collaboration with Biodiversity Information Standards (Taxonomic Databases Working Group:, which manages standards for sharing biodiversity occurrence, taxon, sampling and related data.

Secondary Aims

1) Outlining Open-source trait software goals and steps to achieve them.
2) Consider ideas for implementing a web portal detailing active collection efforts
3) Drafting a manuscript that:
     a) Explains the need for Trait Core
     b) Introduces the Trait Core standards
     c) Discusses trait pipelines and software goals
     d) Discusses ways to integrate and coordinate sampling efforts


  • What common metadata will be most useful?
  • How do we balance the need for flexibility with the need for normalization?
  • How do we encourage direct contributions to major databases?
    • Establish data exchange standards
    • Create templates
  • What is the appropriate standard for citations and acknowledgements?
  • What informatics tools are needed?
  • How can we better integrate sampling efforts?
    • A portal for current, active field (and museum) trait collection efforts
  • How should we prioritize new sampling efforts?
  • Where are the gaps in available data (phylogenetically or geographically)?

Desired Output

1) A Draft manuscript (Possibly for Functional Ecology?)
2) An Open, coordinated network divided into several working groups geared at addressing specific challenges.
3) Plans for meetings and grant applications for at least the next year, including region-specific and taxon-specific efforts.


Space at the venue may be limiting and we are interested in ensuring a diversity of skills, taxonomic interests and backgrounds among participants. We ask those interested in attending to send us a brief email (a numbered list or bullet points is great) describing:

1) The types of traits you study
2) The types of questions you’re interested in
3) The group(s) of organisms you work with
4) Any computational skills that might be relevant

Send mail to: