Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Today Daniel Bunker, now at New Jersey Institute of Technology, presented at our departmental colloquium. While his talk on invasive species, ecosystem dynamics and climate change was excellent, what really captured my imagination was TraitNet, a collaboration with Shatid Naeem (Ecology With No Apology) of Columbia University.

I cannot count the number of times I've spoken with someone about some species, only to hear the remark "Well what we really need is some basic data on x!" The trouble is, determining the average weight of, say, newts in, say, the Cascades isn't really work that will get you published in Nature so there is a reluctance to embark on studies to collect such basic trait data.

Enter TraitNet!

The mission of TraitNet is:

  1. Identify key questions and Core Hypotheses in trait-based research.
  2. Identify data gaps that hinder the advancement of intra- and inter-disciplinary trait-based research.
  3. Coordinate the standardization of collection and curation of trait data.
  4. Build a model database to test explicit Core Hypotheses developed through TraitNet workshops.
  5. Facilitate the development of cross-disciplinary computational tools for merging, disseminating, and sharing trait data.
TraitNet will coordinate trait-based evolutionary and ecological research. Traits are biological properties of species that influence individual fitness and govern how species interact with their biotic and abiotic environment. Traits are used across a broad spectrum of disciplines, including niche theory, community assembly, metabolic ecological theory, phylogenetics, conservation, and ecological stoichiometry. While each discipline has developed its own operational definitions, protocols, and databases, there is little coordination across disciplines. TraitNet will advance syntheses and analyses by coordinating integration among disciplines.

I think TraitNet is an excellent idea who's time has come. We have Genbank, Tree of Life,
RCSB PD etc. Why no trait database?

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