February 5, 2013

Internet resources about Microgastrinae. Part I

When I started thinking about this blog (and how to do it, what to put here, etc), of course that I asked for advice. Several colleagues were encouraging. Others did not care much. One told me: "Why should you worry to write a blog that might be read by 4-5 people...?" 

As hard at is sounds, it might well be the truth: after 2 months and a dozen of posts, I had only received two comments (plus a few courteous email messages). It certainly did not look as if the masses out there were crazy to know more about braconids. If only a braconid wasp would be brave enough to marry a TV "celebrity"... you can only dream.

Seriously though, the main motivation to write this blog came from the realization of how few (and sometimes outdated) information about Braconidae is out there. With this post I am starting a series examining the available Internet resources on Microgastrinae. I am focusing on that subfamily because it is the group I work with, but the situation is pretty much the same for any braconid subfamily -and indeed for most of the parasitoid wasps overall... As part of my "review" of those sites, I will add my opinions on them. [Of course, you should take my comments with a grain of salt, feel free to judge those websites by yourself, and not necessarily agree with what I think!].  

At the beginning of my work with microgastrine wasps, in 2006, my initial stop would invariably be the site of Dr. James Whitfield, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There were three main reasons for that: 

1) You can find there lots of Jim's papers (plus some of his former students and/or colleagues) as free pdf files for downloading. My initial library on the group was made primarily from those resources, including some very useful keys. I particularly recommend his key to the New World genera of Microgastrinae, but also very handy are the keys on Pholetesor (2006) and Parapanteles (2009). Any person interested should browse with detail the resources there under "Publications".

2) Also, there are quite a few amazing photos of a few genera, part of many projects (some unfinished) that Jim has been involved with. They can be found under his "Data" section. I think the SEM photos (Scanning Electron Microscope) of Cotesia and Microplitis are very useful. But there are much more than that, including sequences from several molecular studies.

3) Last but not least, Jim is not only the world authority on Microgastrinae, but also one of the nicest persons you would ever meet, and he is always keen to collaborate and help anyone, regardless of his/her level of knowledge. If the reader is working on the group, it only makes sense to contact him!

There are more things on that website which are very useful or entertaining. For example, every time you enter it, there is a different photo of a wasp or a caterpillar host in the homepage (see the example shown above, but try it on your own). You can also find there an outline of the work done, and contact info of some of his current and/or former students -many of them very talented researchers on their own! Or you can find links to other useful sites -I will talk about those sites in future posts. And if you want more refreshing views, see the dossier of photos from collecting trips... Overall, I would consider this as one of the top sites when looking for accurate and varied information about Microgastrinae.

Of course, and to be impartial, I will also provide one criticism to Jim's website, the only I can honestly think about: the site has not been updated much lately. I can only hope that situation changes in the near future, because we all certainly need to keep learning from there.

To be continued with other websites...    

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