Biological Resources Program, Research Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A OC6
The Biological Survey has emphasized for many years the great importance of the inadequately known soil fauna in maintaining the fertility of Canadian soils (see BSC Newsletter 14 (2): 42-43, 1995). Many years ago, for example, a brief was published by the Survey entitled "Status and research needs of Canadian soil arthropods". Recently, with continuing interest among the scientific community and a larger number of graduate students now in the field, consideration was given to updating the brief. However, the major conclusions of an updated brief would have been similar to those of the previous version: that the fauna is very diverse, the species play a variety of important ecological roles, but there are relatively few taxonomic specialists for the relevant taxa. Consequently, a key need is to increase collaboration between the workers studying soil systems, including both taxonomists and ecologists. To this end a Database of Soil Ecology Projects (DERP) has been proposed, and is introduced here.
The Database of Soil Ecology Projects is a searchable metadatabase [i.e. a database of information] of ecology projects linked nationally and internationally with similar metadatabases. It is being developed by Glen Newton, a software developer and soil biologist, Dr. John Klironomos, a fungal ecologist at the Department of Botany, University of Guelph, and Dr. Val Behan-Pelletier, an acarologist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa. The first view of DERP is the Soil Ecology Research Network (SERN), a meta-project database that records information about soil ecology projects.
Basically, SERN allows investigators, using the Internet, to record a range of information about their project(s). SERN has an extensive set of fields, in an attempt to create as rich and useful an information base as possible: these include: project name, project URL, project time-frame, keywords, abstract, contact information, data availability, data URL, size of available data-sets, site description(s), site URL, site affiliation, taxa studied, functional group, research topic, methodology, chemicals used, FAO soil type(s), georeferencing of location, world ecosystem designation(s) of site, world vegetation designation of site, etc.
This information can be accessed by investigators, other researchers, and decision-makers searching for information about soil ecology. SERN will also enable the development of Profile Agents, which can be instructed to search periodically for specific items as the database is updated and to email search results.
Since July 1997, this set of fields and their contents were open for comments on the Internet at: http://www.kimana.com/nexus/derp/
Between July and November we solicited comments and criticisms from about 250 researchers in the disciplines of soil ecology, marine and freshwater ecology, agriculture, forestry and remote sensing worldwide. We have modified the field structure in response to these comments.
Currently, the SERN fields and field structure are being translated into French. We intend to release a bilingual SERN by the end of May 1998, associated with an intensive campaign by Email to advise soil ecologists worldwide of its availability, and to present SERN at a number of conferences nationally and internationally. We already have agreement from soil ecologists in a number of organizations that links will be made between our respective sites. And, we intend to solicit support for translation of fields into Spanish and other major languages.
We are confident that the soil ecology view of DERP will facilitate collaboration in the field of soil ecology, and help address some of the gaps in knowledge of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in soil, which are outlined in papers by Brussard et al. (1997) and Freckman et al. (1997) cited on p.11 of this newsletter.
A nanhermanniid soil mite, Nanhermannia sp.
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