Biodiversity Science ›› 2017, Vol. 25 ›› Issue (11): 1223-1238.doi: 10.17520/biods.2017184

• Bioinventory • Previous Article     Next Article

Biodiversity information resources. I. Species distribution, catalogue, phylogeny, and life history traits

Xin Wang1, 2, Fenglin Zhang1, 2, Jian Zhang1, 2, *   

  1. 1 Tiantong National Station for Forest Ecosystem Research, Ningbo, Zhejiang 315114
    2 School of Ecological and Environmental Sciences, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200241
  • Received:2017-06-25 Accepted:2017-10-06 Online:2017-11-20
  • Zhang Jian

Species distribution, catalogues, phylogeny, and life history traits are the data basis of biodiversity studies, playing critical roles in understanding species origins, evolution, and conservation biodiversity. Recently, a large number of scientific data-sharing platforms have been created, greatly contributing to the development of biodiversity informatics. However, it is difficult for most researchers to deal with big data with high complexity and heterogeneity. Determining how to select and utilize these data accurately and effectively becomes a huge challenge for ecologists and conservation biologists. To better deal with existing problems related to scattered distributed data, we classify biodiversity data resources into four groups (species distribution, catalogues, phylogeny and life history traits), and select representative databases (e.g. Global Biodiversity Information Facility, The Plant List, Open Tree of Life, and The Plant Trait Database (TRY) for demonstration. For each database, data type, and sampling design, geographic coverage and data availability are reported, and selected publications using these datasets are briefly introduced. Meanwhile, we describe recent achievements on the construction of China’s biodiversity digital platforms in each section. Overall, we hope that this paper provides a starting point for researchers to be familiar with these databases and use them correctly, and could have the potential to stimulate the development of related fields in research and conservation of biodiversity under the efforts of researchers and the public.

Key words: biodiversity informatics, marcoecology, species catalogue, phylogeny, functional trait, data sharing

Fig. 1

The number of papers published between 2011-2016 using the GBIF data (Data source:"

Table 1

The numbers and proportion of accepted names, synonyms and unassessed names of different kinds of plants in The Plant List"

Number of accepted names (%)
Number of synonyms names (%)
Number of unassessed names (%)
被子植物 Angiosperms 304,419 (32.0) 430,346 (45.2) 216,132 (22.7)
裸子植物 Gymnosperms 1,104 (23.7) 3,356 (72.2) 191 (4.1)
蕨类植物 Pteridophytes 10,620 (22.4) 14,503 (30.6) 22,316 (47.0)
苔藓植物 Bryophytes 34,556 (56.8) 22,419 (36.9) 3,830 (6.3)

Fig. 2

Phylogenetic trees of different taxa. (a) 31,749 species of seed plants (Zanne et al, 2014); (b) 9,993 species of birds (Jetz et al, 2012); (c) 4,510 species of mammals (Bininda-Emonds et al, 2007); (d) 4,161 amphibians and reptiles (Pyron et al, 2013). The phylogenetic trees showed here contain 500 species randomly sampled from the mega-phylogeny of each taxon."

Fig. 3

Current data occurrences involved in plant traits database TRY ( and the number of papers citing data from TRY between 2011 and 2016 (b)."

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