The field of ecoinformatics provides concepts, methods and standards to guide management and analysis of ecological data with particular emphasis on exploration of co-occurrences of organisms and their linkage to environmental conditions and taxon attributes. In this editorial, introducing the Special Feature ‘Ecoinformatics and global change’, we reflect on the development of ecoinformatics and explore its importance for future global change research with special focus on vegetation-plot data. We show how papers in this Special Feature illustrate important directions and approaches in this emerging field. We suggest that ecoinformatics has the potential to make profound contributions to pure and applied sciences, and that the analyses, databases, meta-databases, data exchange formats and analytical tools presented in this Special Feature advance this approach to vegetation science and illustrate and address important open questions. We conclude by describing important future directions for the development of the field including incentives for data sharing, creation of tools for more robust statistical analysis, utilities for integration of data that conform to divergent taxonomic standards, and databases that provide detailed plot-specific data so as to allow users to find and access data appropriate to their research needs.