This is the second part of a series of posts discussing available, free, Internet resources on microgastrine wasps (Braconidae). The interested reader can retrieve the complete series by searching for the Tag "Internet Resources" within this blog.
One of the most important sites for any person working with braconids (and indeed also with Ichneumonidae wasps, but that is beyond this blog) is Taxapad: http://www.taxapad.com/. I would argue that perhaps this is THE main resource freely available when checking for names of species, its hosts, the plants related to those species (either as food for the host, or just as a food source for the wasp itself), and associated references. The starting point for all those searches is the page named Global Index, I guarantee to anyone who browses it to be amazed by the amount of information provided there.
As extraordinary as the online, free version of Taxapad is, there is yet a much more complete electronic version, currently sold as a flash drive (Dicky Sick Ki Yu, Cornelis van Achterberg & Klaus Horstmann. 2012. Taxapad 2012, Ichneumonoidea 2011. Database on flash-drive. www.taxapad.com, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada). That Taxapad version has many more options and resources. For example, it allows the user to generate a list of species for a particular region or country, search available references for a particular taxon, look at host families for a group of species, or the institution hosting a holotype, synonym history, and many more things. It is worth every cent of its price, and any institution/researcher that can afford it, should seriously consider buying it. [Disclaimer: I have no relationship whatsoever with the making and/or commercializing of Taxapad].
The genius behind Taxapad is Dicky Yu, an unsung hymenopterist hero. Through his hard work gathering references, and his mastery of databasing, we are all lucky to have the powerful tool that Taxapad is. Of course, we are also lucky to have Kees van Achterberg (a braconid specialist) and Klaus Horstmann (an ichneumonid specialist) that provide the expert review of the contents. [And for the Taxapad module of Chalcidoidea wasps, we are also lucky to have John Noyes doing that part].
A similarly useful database, although only restricted to Europa is Fauna Europaea. Lots of information can be freely retrieved from that site, including mapping of species, references list, links to other databases, available experts, etc. In many ways, it is like the full (sold) version of Taxapad, but with free access. And it only covers the western Palearctic. Again, Kees van Achterberg is the brain behind the Braconidae portion of this site, which guarantees that the same taxonomic opinions are followed in both Taxapad and Fauna Europaea.
To finish this post, I should also provide some criticism. For the online (free) Taxapad one could say that is not the complete package -the one that you get when buying the flash drive. As for the Fauna Europae website, I have found that when searching for lots of names at the same time, the site freezes or it takes a long time to deliver the information. But those are minor details that do not invalidate the huge value and resources that both sites provide.
There is, however, an issue that should be mentioned. And that is the chosen classification of the subfamily Microgastrinae, which follows a paper published in 2003 by Achterberg. That reference proposed a radical change in the generic limits of Microgastrinae. As a result, many species are presented -in both Taxapad and Fauna Europaea- in different genera that those accepted by other braconid workers elsewhere. Controversy remains, but unfortunately there has not been any effort to (try to) find common ground on the topic. I actually plan to cover this issue with more details in future posts of the blog, because it is very important, especially for researchers working on Biocontrol, Biodiversity, and Conservation projects. Stay tuned for more updates on that soon...
Overall, I would strongly recommend to anyone working with braconid wasps to spend time learning from the two sites featured here.