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AusTraits is an open-source, harmonized database of Australian plant trait data. It synthesises data on nearly 500 traits across more than 30,000 taxa from field campaigns, published literature, taxonomic monographs, and individual taxon descriptions. Begun in 2016 as an initiative between three lab groups, it has grown to be the largest collation of plant trait data for Australian plants.

AusTraits integrates plant trait data collected by researchers from diverse disciplines, including functional plant biology, plant physiology, plant taxonomy, and conservation biology. By harmonizing and error checking values, linking all AusTraits data entries to detailed metadata, and documenting trait and trait values definitions, AusTraits is a resource researchers can trust and use for their research agendas with minimal additional filtering or manipulations.

An AusTraits data paper was published in Scientific Data in 2021 and is available at: 10.1038/s41597-021-01006-6.

Accessing and Using AusTraits

Access and use

A compiled version of AusTraits is available for download on Zenodo. As detailed on Zenodo, AusTraits has been released under an open source licence (CC-BY 4.0), enabling re-use by the community.

An R package, austraits, allows the seamless download of AusTraits and includes a selection of functions that facilitate the exploration and use of AusTraits. Visit AusTraits R Package to access and learn more about this resource.

A tutorial offers examples of how to explore and analyse AusTraits.

Learn more

AusTraits is a relational database, with 11 elements, jointly storing the trait data, study metadata, and information about the AusTraits structure and build. Visualisations of these elements and the linkages between them are here to orient AusTraits users. Further information on AusTraits is available on the project’s GitHub repository and in an accompanying online book on the GitHub repository, including chapters on the database structure. The AusTraits Plant Dictionary is available here.

Enhancing and Expanding AusTraits

Growing AusTraits into a national data asset

The AusTraits project received investment from 2021-2023 from the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC). The ARDC is funded by the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). The investment, together with co-investment from our 19 partner institutions, will expand AusTraits' data coverage and enhance data quality, allowing AusTraits to emerge as a national data asset. The AusTraits core team and broader team of ARDC partners are jointly working on a collection of work packages to achieve this goal.

Contributing new data to AusTraits

To contribute trait data to AusTraits, please contact us. Briefly, we require your data contribution as a spreadsheet in conjunction with accompanying metadata, as described on our GitHub repository. We also accept any legacy datasets, either from your archives or transcribed from published data sources.

Reviewing trait concepts

The AusTraits team held a series of workshops from 2021-2023 to review and more fully document the trait concepts used to build AusTraits. These workshops considered the scope of each trait concept, crafted explicit trait descriptions, and refined allowable trait values (terms for categorical variables and ranges for continuous variables). Our three workshops have, respectively, reviewed 29 trait definitions associated with seeds and germination, 49 trait definitions associated with plant growth form and leaf morphology, and 35 traits associated with fire response and plant regeneration. An additional 114 traits have been reviewed by 1-2 subject experts. These are predominately traits related to plant physiology or floral structure.

Establishing a formal vocabulary, the AusTraits Plant Dictionary, APD

The trait definitions used to map data within AusTraits have been developed into a formal vocabulary, the APD. The APD extends the core information required by the AusTraits workflow and releases all trait definitions in both machine-readable RDF representations and human-friendly outputs (html & csv documents). The dictionary includes trait description metadata required by the pipeline that builds AusTraits including accepted units (for numeric traits) and either explicitly allowed (and defined) values (for categorical traits) or an allowed range (for numeric traits). The APD also includes references for traits, links to other trait databases, ontologies and thesauri providing data or definitions for the same trait concept, keywords, and hierarchical categories for easy data searching. The APD can also be accessed through the ARDC’s Research Vocabulary Australia portal. A description of the APD is available here.

Transforming taxonomic descriptions into trait data tables

Taxonomic descriptions for most of Australia’s 30,000+ plant species are available in online floras maintained by state and national herbaria. One of our initiatives has been to use algorithms to extract key trait data from these paragraphs of information, providing an easy-to-search, tabular formulation of the taxonomic descriptions. This effort has led to the extraction of 570,000 distinct trait values across 36 traits. These data are available in AusTraits and the method used is described in Coleman et al. 2023.

Enhanced access options

The AusTraits team has developed a project API along the distribution of AusTraits data to other biodiversity platforms, including the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), EcoCommons, and the Flora of Australia. ALA’s taxon pages each have a traits tab offering a summary of the AusTraits' trait data for that taxon and a link to download that taxon’s raw data from AusTraits. The ALA traits tabs are visited about 2000 times a day.

Converting the AusTraits workflow into a standalone R package,

Prompted by interest from other research groups to use the AusTraits pipeline to aggregate databases for other taxonomic groups or different clusters of traits, the R code underlying AusTraits has been developed into a standalone R package, {}. Extensive documentation for how to create a trait database using the {} workflow is available in an accompanying online book.

The database structure has a documented data standard (data model), that aligns with established ontologies including the Extensible Observation Ontology (OBOE), the Ecological Trait-data Standard (ETS), and Darwin Core.

Converting the AusTraits taxonomic backbone into a standalone R package, APCalign

Taxon names within AusTraits are aligned to Australia’s two National Species Lists, the Australian Plant Census (APC) and the Australian Plant Names Index (APNI). The taxonomy alignment workflow within AusTraits standardised syntax (including for phrase names), corrected typos, and updated names to the currently accepted taxon name (per the APC). This workflow has been developed into a standalone R package, {APCalign}, and accompanying ShinyApp. The core functions within the package allow a user to read in a list of “original names” and output a list of names aligned to the APC.

Core Team

Our core AusTraits team is supported in maintaining, expanding, and enhancing AusTraits by a team of ARDC project grant partners. The creation of the AusTraits database was only possible because of the researchers who contributed data to this endeavor.


Assoc. Prof. Daniel Falster

Joint project lead


Dr Hervé Sauquet

Joint project lead


Dr Elizabeth Wenk

Project manager


Sophie Yang

Project officer


David Coleman

Project officer



ARDC Funding 2019 - Initial funding

ARDC Funding 2021-2023 - More information can be found here including co-investment partners

Recent Publications

Below are some recent publications using AusTraits. You can access a full list of publications via AusTraits on Google Scholar.

  • Falster DS, Gallagher RV, et al. (2021) AusTraits, a curated plant trait database for the Australian flora. Scientific Data 8, 254. doi: 10.1038/s41597-021-01006-6
  • Coleman, D, Gallagher RV, Falster D, Sauquet H, and Wenk E (2023) A Workflow to Create Trait Databases from Collections of Textual Taxonomic Descriptions. Ecological Informatics 78: 102312. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoinf.2023.102312
  • Wenk, EH, Sauquet H, Gallagher RV, Brownlee R, Boettiger C, ColemanD , Yang S, et al. (2023) The AusTraits Plant Dictionary. bioRxiv. doi: 10.1101/2023.06.16.545047.
  • Andrew SC et al. (2021) Functional diversity of the Australian flora: Strong links to species richness and climate. Journal of Vegetation Science 32. doi: 10.1111/jvs.13018
  • Gallagher RV et al. (2021) High fire frequency and the impact of the 2019–2020 megafires on Australian plant diversity. Diversity and Distributions 27: 1166–1179. doi: 10.1111/ddi.13265