In recent years, one of the major challenges in the ecological science has been managing and searching increasingly large volume of data. Functional trait-based approaches have been experiencing an extraordinary expansion in ecology and a large quantity of heterogeneous data has been produced needing to be harmonized in order to share and re-use them.
The use of controlled vocabularies and thesauri is an acknowledged good practice to establish the foundation for semantic interoperability. In fact, thesauri, collectively constructed, bypass ambiguity issues in natural language, facilitating the identification and integration of the information available in multiple data sources and allowing both people and machines to interpret it.
The e-Biodiversity Research Institute of LifeWatch-Italy (LW-ITA) is developing thesauri on functional traits of several groups of aquatic organisms, providing standardised terms organised so that relationships between concepts are made explicit.
In detail, three thesauri on mostly morphological traits of phytoplankton, fishes and zooplankton have already been produced and are available online. Being structured through the SKOS standard, they serve as a stable reference resource, specifically when available as linked data on the web.
Next steps will be to improve and expand the existing thesauri with other functional traits (physiological, phenological and behavioural traits) and implement new thesauri on other taxonomic groups (e.g.: macrozoobenthos and macroalgae).