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The TOPIC network: Traits of Plants in Canada database (TOPIC) and the Canadian Repository of Invertebrate Traits and Trait-like Ecological Records (CRITTER)

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TOPIC network

The Traits of Plants in Canada (TOPIC) network stimulates, facilitates and promotes ecological research in Canada using the functional trait approach.

More than just a collection of data, TOPIC is a network of academics, government researchers and biodiversity specialists. The network facilitates studies on critical issues related to community ecology by promoting data exchange and fostering connections within the scientific community. Through the different activities organized by its members, the TOPIC network can be used as a platform for collaboration among researchers.

TOPIC network provides access to two databases to the scientific community which are hosted by the Canadian Forest Service of Natural Resources Canada: TOPIC and Canadian Repository of Invertebrate Traits and Trait-like Ecological Records (CRITTER). The network also provides training and guidance to graduate students interested in applying the functional trait approach in their projects. Members also contribute to an international summer graduate school.

TOPIC database

The TOPIC database currently includes information on 100 functional traits of more than 1,400 vascular plant species of Canadian flora.

The TOPIC database has two parts. The literature review module consolidates data from the scientific literature, and the empirical measurements module brings together datasets of direct observations collected in the field, laboratory, greenhouse or garden.

Data are contributed by network members and made available to potential collaborators in accordance with network data sharing guidelines.

TOPIC members include:

  • Munson, Alison (Université Laval), Coordinating Committee
  • Shipley, Bill (Université de Sherbrooke), Coordinating Committee
  • Messier, Christian (Université du Québec à Montréal), Coordinating Committee
  • Bell, Wayne (Ontario Forest Research Institute), Ontario representative
  • Bélanger, Nicolas (TÉLUQ)
  • Brown, Tom (Canadian Forest Service – Pacific Forestry Centre)
  • Cardou, Françoise (Université de Sherbrooke)
  • Gachet, Sophie (Institut Méditerranéen de Biodiversité et d'Écologie, France), International liaison
  • Hébert, François (Ministère des Ressources naturelles du Québec), Quebec representative
  • Hazlett, Paul (Canadian Forest Service – Great Lakes Forestry Centre)
  • Kabzems, Richard (Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development)
  • Mallik, Azim (Lakehead University)
  • Morris, Dave (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources)
  • Newmaster, Steve (Guelph University)
  • Paquette, Alain (Université du Québec à Montréal), Montreal Region representative
  • Poulin, Monique (Université Laval)
  • Ricard, Jean-Pierre (WSP), Industrial partner
  • Sirois, Luc (Université du Québec à Rimouski)
  • Thiffault, Nelson (Ministère des Ressources naturelles du Québec)
  • Vellend, Mark (Université de Sherbrooke)

Canadian Forest Service Steering Committee:

  • Arsenault, André (Atlantic Forestry Centre)
  • Aubin, Isabelle (Great Lakes Forestry Centre), Science lead and Database Curator
  • Boisvert-Marsh, Laura (Great Lakes Forestry Centre), Database manager
  • Baldwin, Ken (Great Lakes Forestry Centre)
  • Cardou, Françoise (Université de Sherbrooke)
  • DeGrandpré, Louis (Laurentian Forestry Centre)
  • Lawrence, Kevin (Great Lakes Forestry Centre)
  • McKenney, Dan (Great Lakes Forestry Centre)
  • Titus, Brian (Pacific Forestry Centre)

CRITTER database

CRITTER was established by the TOPIC network to stimulate, facilitate and promote the use of functional traits among ecologists studying invertebrates across Canada. As of November 2017, the CRITTER database documents 50 functional traits and has entries for more than 400 species. By having such a database, we hope to foster potential collaborations among researchers following network data sharing procedures.

The CRITTER database has two parts. The literature review module compiles functional trait data from the scientific literature, and the empirical data module is a repository for functional traits that have been measured in the field or lab on invertebrates in a variety of Canadian ecosystems.

The database is available to any researcher willing to provide an equivalent contribution towards the CRITTER database.

Scientific Committee

  • Handa, Tanya (Université du Québec à Montréal)
  • Aubin, Isabelle (Great Lakes Forestry Centre)
  • Raymond-Léonard, Laura (Université du Québec à Montréal)
  • Boisvert-Marsh, Laura (Great Lakes Forestry Centre)
  • Dupuch, Angélique (Université du Québec en Outaouais)
  • Nahmani, Johanne (Centre d'écologie fonctionnelle et évolutive, Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS))

Additional Members

  • Brousseau, Pierre-Marc (Université du Québec à Montréal)
  • Rousseau, Laurent (Université du Québec à Montréal)

What are functional traits?

Functional traits are:

“[…] any morphological, physiological or phenological feature measurable at the individual level, from the cell to the whole-organism level, without reference to the environment or any other level of organization” (Violle et al. 2007).

A functional trait is therefore any characteristic that has implications for the fitness of an individual and/or may have an impact on ecosystem processes. The databases also include integrative indices of ecological performance, such as shade tolerance index and information related to species edaphic preferences.


Violle, C.; Navas, M.-L.; Vile, D.; Kazakou, E.; Fortunel, C.; Hummel, I.; Garnier, E. 2007. Let the concept of trait be functional! Oikos 116: 882-892.


For more information please contact Dr.Isabelle Aubin

Citation information

Please cite TOPIC database as follows:

Aubin, I., Messier, C., Gachet, S., Lawrence, K., McKenney, D., Arseneault, A., Bell, W., De Grandpré, L., Shipley, B., Ricard, J.-P. & Munson, A.D. 2012. TOPIC - Traits of Plants in Canada. [Internet] Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada [Cited date] Available from:

Please cite CRITTER database as follows:

Handa, T., Raymond-Léonard, L., Boisvert-Marsh, L., Dupuch, A., Aubin, I. 2017. CRITTER : Canadian Repository of Invertebrate Traits and Trait-like Ecological Records. [Internet] Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada [Cited date] Available from:

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