Max Planck Gesellschaft

Projects & Initiatives

The Research Group Functional Biogeography coordinates the international plant trait database initiative TRY and is involved in research projects on biodiversity, ecosystem function and research data management. In addition Christian Wirth – the head of the Research Group – is Director of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv). Short descriptions of projects and scientific initiatives we are involved in are available below.

Current Projects & Initiatives

Acronym: TRY
Title: TRY - Quantifying and scaling global plant trait diversity
Coordination: Jens Kattge
Funding: Max Planck Society and Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry
Start Date: 02/2007
Project Link:

Plant traits - morphological, anatomical, biochemical, physiological or phenological features of individuals or their component organs or tissues - are a key to understanding and predicting the adaptation of ecosystems in the face of biodiversity loss and global change. To improve the empirical data basis for such projections, in 2007 the TRY project was initiated, aimed at bringing together the different plant trait databases worldwide. In this context TRY is not an acronym, rather a statement of sentiment. Since 2007 the TRY database has accomplished an unprecedented coverage. It contains 5.6 million trait records for 1000 traits of 2 million individual plants, representing 100,000 plant species. About half of the data are geo-referenced, providing a global coverage of more than 12000 measurement sites.

Participating group members:
Jens Kattge, Gerhard Boenisch, Angela Guenther, Pramod Baddam, Hoi Ying Lam, Christian Wirth

Acronym: iDiv
Title: German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Coordination: University of Leipzig (UL)
Funding: German Research Foundation (DFG)
Start Date: 10/2012
Project Link:

The central mission of iDiv is to promote theory-driven synthesis and experiments and data-driven theory in biodiversity sciences, and provide the scientific foundation for a sustainable management of the earth’s biodiversity. The main deliverables of the centre are (i) novel experimental and meta-analytical tests of existing theories, (ii) novel theories inspired by and testable with data, and (iii) practical solutions for improving biodiversity conservation. This will be supported by existing, as well as several new experimental and database-platforms. iDiv is based in Leipzig and jointly hosted by the University of Leipzig (UL), the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU), and the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (FSU), all of which have a strong tradition in biodiversity sciences. The expertise of the consortium is strongly enhanced by eight non-university institutions – the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (MPI BGC), the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology (MPI CE), the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI EVA), the Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry (IPB), the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK), the Leibniz Institute Senckenberg Museum of Natural History (SMNG), and the Leibniz Institute German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures (DSMZ).

Participating group members:
Jens Kattge, Christian Wirth

Acronym: GFBio
Title: German Federation for Biological Data - GFBio
Coordination: Michael Diepenbroek - Center for Marine Environmental Science, University Bremen
Funding: German Research Foundation (DFG)
Duration: 12/2013 - 07/2021
Project Link:

Environmental and biological research is becoming central to major societal challenges related to the Earth’s ecosystems and climate dynamics. To handle the scale and complexity of the scientific questions being addressed, there is a strong need to integrate knowledge because biological data are currently scattered and difficult to share. The overall goal of the ‘German Federation for the Curation of Biological Data’ (GFBio) is to provide a sustainable, service oriented, national data infrastructure facilitating data sharing and stimulating data intensive science in the fields of biological and environmental research. Services provided by the GFBio will cover the full life cycle of research data from field or real time data acquisition to long term archiving and publication as well as analysis and re-use of these data. The project consists of a large consortium, bringing together national archives, history collections, universities and other research institutions.

Participating group members:
David Schoene, Jens Kattge, Christian Wirth

Title: Mobilization of trait data from digital image files by deep learning approaches
Coordination: Stefan Dressler - Senckenberg Biodiversität und Klima Forschungszentrum
Funding: German Research Foundation (DFG)
Duration: 02/2016 - 07/2021
Project link:

Based upon digital images of plants (photos, specimen scans) and related taxon- and trait data we will develop and train deep-learning algorithms to recognize (a) traits in other image files and (b) use the identified traits as a step equivalent to a conventional determination process and using deep learning again to recognize taxa in image files. This approach will be used for massive mobilization of trait data for use in ecology and taxonomy, as well as for the automatic identification of species in digitized collections and citizen science portals. The newly mobilized trait data will be made available to the science community via the contributing information infrastructures, e.g. the TRY database, and via long term data repositories in the frame of GFBio.

Participating group member:
Susanne Tautenhahn, Vamsi Kommineni, Pramod Baddam, Jens Kattge

Title: Identifying drivers of intra- and interspecific leaf trait variation in space and time from digitized herbarium specimen using computer vision approaches
Coordination: Jens Kattge - Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry
Funding: German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Start Date: 11/2020 - 11/2024

Plant traits provide a fundamental basis for quantitative and predictive ecology, ecologically informed landscape conservation and the global change science-policy interface. Commonly differences between species have been used to inform analyses and models. More recently, the relevance of trait variation within species for understanding and predicting plant, vegetation and ecosystem adaptation to environmental changes has become evident. A historic record of change in species phenotypic expression is preserved in about 390 million herbarium specimen globally, dating back to the 16th century, which are increasingly being digitized. This project aims at developing workflows to leverage leaf trait information from the wealth of digitized herbarium specimen and identify drivers of intra- and interspecific trait variation in space and time.

Participating group members:
Jens Kattge, Susanne Tautenhahn, Vamsi Kommineni, Christian Wirth

Completed Projects

Acronym: BExIS++
Title: Biodiversity-Exploratories Information System 2
Coordination: Roman Gerlach - Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena
Funding: German Research Foundation (DFG)
Duration: 09/2015 - 08/2019
Project Link:

The BExIS++ project coordinates the further development of the established Biodiversity-Exploratories Information System (BExIS). Furthermore, the project focuses on strategic work such as concepts and method development to foster long-term data preservation in biodiversity research.

Participating group members:
David Schoene, Jens Kattge

Acronym: BACI
Title: Detecting changes in essential ecosystem and biodiversity properties – towards a Biosphere Atmosphere Change Index: BACI
Coordination: Miguel Mahecha - Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry
Funding: EU Horizon 2020
Duration: 04/2015 - 03/2019
Project link:

Space data offer unprecedented opportunities for monitoring the state and transformation of land ecosystems and anthropogenic impacts. Today, space data archives and novel space-borne Earth observation (EOs) are complemented by a variety of in-situ monitoring approaches of vegetation properties, ecosystem functioning, biodiversity states, land-use systems amongst others. The key is integrating optical and radar space data with ground observations for deriving novel downstream products required by end-user community. The synthesis of existing EOs and downstream products should allow detecting changes in land ecosystems, and attributing changes to climate and societal transformations.

BACI supports latest efforts towards generating “Essential Ecosystem Variables” (EEVs: exploring the intersection of Essential Climate Variables and Essential Biodiversity Variables) by developing novel downstream data products that are not directly observable from space. We rely on the integration of ground observations using machine learning methods only. This will allow the detection of hotspots of change of the terrestrial biosphere and attribution to fundamental environmental and societal transformations and assessing the impacts of terrestrial transformations on biodiversity patterns.

Participating group members:
Christian Wirth, Jens Kattge, Talie Musavi

Acronym: sPlot
Title: sPlot – The Global Vegetation Database
Coordination: Borja Jiménez-Alfaro - University of Halle
Funding: German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Duration: 05/2014 - 04/2019
Project link:

sPlot is the largest repository for plant community data in the world, containing more than 1 million records with full lists of plant species co-occurring in small areas (plots). The facility was first established as a working group funded by sDiv, then assumed as an iDiv research platform. By integrating national and continental vegetation databases, sPlot aims at understanding global patterns in plant diversity across facets, biomes and scales. sPlot aims at explaining global patterns in taxonomical, functional and phylogenetic diversity and understanding the role of temporal and spatial scaling in plant diversity. The sPlot database includes species lists recorded in plots and header data (geographic and environmental information), linked with functional traits provided by TRY and phylogenetic information.

Participating group member:
Jens Kattge

Title: Plant Trait Semantics - Towards a unifying system of plant trait definition and measurement
Principal Investigator: Stefan Klotz – Helmholz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)
Funding: German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Duration: 10/2013 – 09/2014

Plant traits are increasingly used for different scientific approaches to understand and predict plant communities and vegetation as well as ecosystems in general. Various methods and protocols are available to define and measure plant traits. Unifying concepts as well as a general background is still not available. Especially the different trait systems are not interrelated. A common language based on a consolidated vocabulary and hierarchical trait system is still not operable. Experiences from the different large databases and from the user perspective will help to develop a unifying interrelated and hierarchical system.

Participating group members:
Jens Kattge, Marie-Angelique Laporte, Ulrike Stahl

Title: Plant Functional Diversity of Permanent Grasslands
Principal Investigator: Philippe Choler, LECA – CNRS and University of Grenoble, France
Funding: CESAB - Center for Synthesis and Analysis of Biodiversity (France)
Duration: 11/2011 - 10/2014
Project Link:

Permanent grasslands still cover about 10 millions of hectares in France (among which 20% are not seeded), but, like in most of Europe, they have been clearly receding over the last decades due to the combined effect of urbanization and changes in agricultural practices. These grasslands are remarkable areas for biodiversity and serve a large number of functions and ecosystem services: food resources for animals, carbon sinks in the soil, water filter, erosion prevention on slopes, touristic interest, cultural value of the landscapes where they are implemented, etc. The DIVGRASS project aims at combining existing data on the plant diversity of French permanent grasslands to better understand the linkages between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

Participating group member:
Jens Kattge

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