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Core traits

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The study and conservation of biodiversity requires a broad understanding of diversity from ecological, evolutionary, and applied perspectives. To promote this goal, the Jepson Flora Project is developing complementary phylogenetic, taxonomic and ecological databases for the California flora. As part of this project, the Ecological Flora of California (EFCal) will provide information on a broad suite of ecological traits, including life history, phenology, and morphology. Coordination of EFCal with the Jepson Flora Project will ensure a high level of taxonomic quality and consistency. In addition, EFCal advocates the measurement of a core set of ecological traits, building on several recent contributions towards plant ecological databases.

The California flora provides an ideal focus for the development of an ecological flora database that will be of great value for research, education and management, and can serve as a model both nationally and internationally. The flora is well studied and diverse in many respects, including endemism, biogeographical origins, life forms, habitats, etc. The relatively large number of radiations within the region also make it ideal for the study of ecological diversification in relation to topographic heterogeneity and changing climate.


The Ecological Flora database will serve as a repository of ecological trait data for the flora of California. The idea for the database developed from the pioneering work of the late Herbert Baker, who compiled information on seed size (Baker 1972) and a variety of reproductive traits for thousands of California plant species. The seed size data has been archived through the Kew Seed Information Database, but the other information has never been publicly available. EFCal will build on this core, and add information from the Jepson Manual, and from numerous published studies on the ecology of the California flora. The taxonomy will correspond to current treatments in the Jepson Flora Project. All data will be fully searchable by taxon, trait type, specific trait values, location, source, etc. and be publicly available for non-commercial uses. The database is being designed to maximize long-term compatibility with other projects of this type around the world.

Selected trait references

  • Baker, H. G. 1972. Seed weight in relation to environmental conditions in California. Ecology 53:997-1010.
  • Cornelissen, J. et al. 2003. Handbook of protocols for standardised and easy measurement of plant functional traits worldwide. Aust. J. Bot. 51:335-380.
  • Hodgson, J., P. Wilson, R. Hunt, J. Grime, and K. Thompson. 1999. Allocating C-S-R plant functional types: a soft approach to a hard problem. Oikos 85: 282-294.
  • Weiher, E., A. van der Werf, K. Thompson, M. Roderick, E. Garnier, and O. Eriksson. 1999. Challenging Theophrastus: a common core list of plant traits for functional ecology. J. Veg. Sci. 10:609-620.
  • Westoby, M. 1998. A leaf-height-seed (LHS) plant ecology strategy scheme. Plant and Soil 199:213-227.
  • Westoby, M., D. Falster, A. Moles, P. Vesk, and I. Wright. 2002. Plant ecological strategies: Some leading dimensions of variation between species. Ann. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 33:125-159.
  • Wright, I. et al. 2004. The worldwide leaf economics spectrum. Nature. 428:821-827

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