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U.S. Geological Survey Data Series

A Database of Lotic Invertebrate Traits for North America

By Nicole K. M. Vieira, N. LeRoy Poff, Daren M. Carlisle, Stephen R. Moulton II, Marci L. Koski, and Boris C. Kondratieff

U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 187

In cooperation with Colorado State University


The assessment and study of stream communities may be enhanced if functional characteristics such as life-history, habitat preference, and reproductive strategy were more widely available for specific taxa. Species traits can be used to develop these functional indicators because many traits directly link functional roles of organisms with controlling environmental factors (for example, flow, substratum, temperature). In addition, some functional traits may not be constrained by taxonomy and are thus applicable at multiple spatial scales. Unfortunately, a comprehensive summary of traits for North American invertebrate taxa does not exist. Consequently, the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water-Quality Assessment Program in cooperation with Colorado State University compiled a database of traits for North American invertebrates. A total of 14,127 records for over 2,200 species, 1,165 genera, and 249 families have been entered into the database from 967 publications, texts and reports. Quality-assurance procedures indicated error rates of less than 3 percent in the data entry process. Species trait information was most complete for insect taxa. Traits describing resource acquisition and habitat preferences were most frequently reported, whereas those describing physiological tolerances and reproductive biology were the least frequently reported in the literature. The database is not exhaustive of the literature for North American invertebrates and is biased towards aquatic insects, but it represents a first attempt to compile traits in a web-accessible database. This report describes the database and discusses important decisions necessary for identifying ecologically relevant, environmentally sensitive, non-redundant, and statistically tractable traits for use in bioassessment programs.

Table of Contents





Selecting traits for the database

Compiling Traits Information

Summary Statistics

Considerations in Using Trait Information from the Database

Traits and Environmental Gradients

Traits and Ecosystem Function

Linked Traits / Trait Syndromes

Traits and Taxonomic Resolution

Defining Trait States

Statistical Analysis of Traits

Using the Traits Tables from the Database

References Cited

Data Files



1. A list of traits included in the database for species traits of North American macroinvertebrates
2. Error rates for data entry in the traits database
3. Examples of species traits relevant for different environmental gradients

This document is available in Portable Document Format (PDF):  (74 KB)

Data files

Brief Description
Descriptions of fields used in the invertebrate traits data
table; tab-delimited text file (8 Kilobytes)
Complete invertebrate traits data table; tab-delimited text
file (5,465 Kilobytes)
Literature cited in invertebrate traits table; tab-delimited text
file (225 Kilobytes)

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