A guide to using species trait data in conservation

Rachael V. Gallagher*, Nathalie Butt, Alexandra J. R. Carthey, Ayesha Tulloch, Lucie Bland, Simon Clulow, Thomas Newsome, Rachael Y. Dudaniec, Vanessa M. Adams

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)


    Species traits have much to offer conservation science. However, the selection and application of trait data in conservation requires rigor to avoid perverse or unexpected outcomes. To guide trait use, we review how traits are applied along the conservation continuum: the progression of conservation actions from assessing risk, to designing and prioritizing actions, to implementation and evaluation. We then provide a framework for their use as proxies for more nuanced empirical data on species and ecosystems. Framework steps include (1) identifying information needs relative to conservation goals, (2) choosing relevant traits using theory and expanding via expert elicitation, and (3) defining and addressing the limits of trait information. Worked examples for contemporary plant and amphibian conservation show how traits should be selected and applied based on theory and/or evidence (rather than data availability or untested assumptions). Finally, we forecast the use of trait data in several conservation applications globally.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)927-936
    Number of pages10
    JournalOne Earth
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - 23 Jul 2021


    • biodiversity
    • conservation planning
    • effect traits
    • functional traits
    • response traits
    • sensitivity
    • threat management
    • threatened species
    • trait ecology
    • vulnerability assessment


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