Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Nature Ecology & Evolution




Nature Publishing Group

Publication Date


Award Number

NSF, Division of Emerging Frontiers 1802605


NSF, Division of Emerging Frontiers

First Page


Last Page



Synthesizing trait observations and knowledge across the Tree of Life remains a grand challenge for biodiversity science. Species traits are widely used in ecological and evolutionary science, and new data and methods have proliferated rapidly. Yet accessing and integrating disparate data sources remains a considerable challenge, slowing progress toward a global synthesis to integrate trait data across organisms. Trait science needs a vision for achieving global integration across all organisms. Here, we outline how the adoption of key Open Science principles—open data, open source and open methods—is transforming trait science, increasing transparency, democratizing access and accelerating global synthesis. To enhance widespread adoption of these principles, we introduce the Open Traits Network (OTN), a global, decentralized community welcoming all researchers and institutions pursuing the collaborative goal of standardizing and integrating trait data across organisms. We demonstrate how adherence to Open Science principles is key to the OTN community and outline five activities that can accelerate the synthesis of trait data across the Tree of Life, thereby facilitating rapid advances to address scientific inquiries and environmental issues. Lessons learned along the path to a global synthesis of trait data will provide a framework for addressing similarly complex data science and informatics challenges.


Correction to: Nature Ecology & Evolution, published online 17 February 2020.

In the version of this Perspective originally published, the first author of reference 39 was incorrectly listed as W. Cornwell and the publication year was incorrect. The reference should have read as follows: “Flores-Moreno, H. et al. fungaltraits aka funfun: a dynamic functional trait database for the world's fungi (GitHub, 2019);”. This has now been corrected.