Major research progress in ecology is being achieved through large-scale collaborations across people, groups and countries. In large-scale projects harmonization of data is tedious and time-consuming, but needs to be done reliably and rapidly. This is especially true if projects investigate under-explored organism groups such as tropical invertebrates. To link taxa to their role in ecosystems, functional traits of the taxa need to be considered. However, despite the urgent need for a common database for invertebrate traits, this is yet to be established. We developed an open web platform, Ecotaxonomy (ecotaxonomy.org), that allows traits, taxa, individuals and samples to be linked within research projects. Ecotaxonomy includes a virtual research environment, allowing project members to work jointly online on the data input, integration and retrieval. The taxonomic system of Ecotaxonomy is based on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (gbif.org), but may be complemented by morphospecies, pictures, literature and other parameters. Any parameters can be customized inside the system and attached either to taxa, individuals, or environmental samples (Fig. 1). As public output, the system provides interactive identification keys and web catalogs of traits and taxa. Ecotaxonomy is implemented on GCore platform, that is being developed by Complex Cloud Solutions (http://ccs.msk.ru/en/). The GCore is based on Node.js, allowing for fast and efficient standardised programming. Thus, custom modules can be implemented in the future by external developers in the framework of the platform. Ecotaxonomy is now open for beta-testing. After a public release (presumably in 2020), our goal is to keep the system and the code open and ensure data interoperability via Darwin core standards. The initial stage of Ecotaxonomy development (2016-2023) is funded in the framework of a DFG-funded project (SFB 990). To ensure long-term sustainability, we are involving ecological laboratories around the world and ultimately seek to establish a permanent funding by governmental or non-governmental organisations. Using and developing Ecotaxonomy, and linking it to existing open repositories will greatly improve the efficiency and integration of research in trait-based ecology.
Ecological roles of underexplored groups, such as tropical invertebrates, can be inferred from their functional traits, such as body mass, dispersal ability, reproductive mode and feeding habits. Despite a strong need, a common database for invertebrate traits is yet to be created. Traits are defined as a property of individual organisms, however many parameters are similar in groups of organisms, i.e., in species or even at higher taxonomic levels. Such parameters may be attributed to taxa instead of individuals. Linking both facilitates ecological and conservation studies based on taxa or phylogenetic units. Another problem hampering understanding of tropical ecosystems is the high proportion of undescribed species, particularly in soil communities. To estimate diversity, ecologists often have to operate with morphospecies instead of Linnean taxa. Morphospecies typically are defined independently in each project or even by each person, which does not allow consistent re-use. Ecotaxonomy database (ecotaxonomy.org), implemented as an open platform, addresses these issues (Fig. 1). The taxonomic system of Ecotaxonomy is based on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) taxonomic backbone (gbif.org), which is being complemented with traits, pictures, literature and other parameters. Both common and group-specific traits and characters can be customized in the system. Each morphospecies has to be defined by a common grid of identification characters, which is being developed in collaboration with group experts. Morphospecies then are incorporated into the existing GBIF taxonomic backbone and also inherit common characters and traits from the parental taxa. As an output the system provides open catalogs of traits and taxa, pictorial identification keys and trait matrixes. Further, by linking traits and taxa with individual-level and environmental data, Ecotaxonomy will be developed as a tool to push forward ecological research in underexplored groups and regions.
1.Animals that have similar morphological traits are expected to share similar ecological niches. This statement applies to individual animals within a species and thus species often serve as the functional units in ecological studies. Species are further grouped into higher‐ranked taxonomic units based on their morphological similarity and thus are also expected to be ecologically similar. On the other hand, theory predicts that strong competition between closely related species may result in differentiation of ecological niches. Due to high diversity and limited taxonomic expertise, soil food webs are often resolved using supraspecific taxa such as families, orders or even classes as functional units. 2.Here we tested the trophic differentiation and consistency of supraspecific taxa across major lineages of temperate forest soil invertebrates: Annelida, Chelicerata, Myriapoda, Crustacea and Hexapoda. Published data on stable isotope compositions of carbon and nitrogen were used to infer basal resources and trophic level, and explore the relationship between taxonomic and trophic dissimilarity of local populations. 3.Genera and families had normal and unimodal distributions of isotopic niches, suggesting that supraspecific taxa are trophically consistent. The isotopic niche of local populations varied considerably resulting in large overlap of niches among species. Within the same genus, the effect of species identity on stable isotope composition of populations was not significant in 92% of cases. More than 50% of the variability in Δ15N values (trophic level) across lineages was explained by classes and orders, while the variability in Δ13C values (basal resources) was explained mostly by families and genera. The variability in stable isotope composition in Chelicerata and Hexapoda was explained by lower taxonomic ranks than in Myriapoda. 4.We compiled a comprehensive list of mean Δ13C and Δ15N values of invertebrate taxa from temperate forest soils allowing to refine soil food‐web models when measurements of trophic niches of local populations are not feasible. Supraspecific taxa are meaningful as trophic nodes in food‐web studies, but the consistency varies among taxa and the choice of taxonomic resolution depends on the research question; generally, identification of taxa should be more detailed in more diverse taxonomic groups. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.