An interesting resource for creating an interactive key

I study pollinators in the US Pacific northwest. So I have by necessity learned enough taxonomy to name any bee in our collection to genus, and chip away at species. So I am a user of keys, which are often challenging for the non-specialist. Issues:

  • Poor coverage for my region – e.g., many DiscoverLife keys exclude western species
  • Excessive coverage—e.g., keys that cover many species that would not appear in the PNW.
  • Couplet crises—in a dichotomous key, if you fail to properly score an early character – is that one ocellar diameter, or more than one OD?—then you’ll never get the right answer.
  • Inadequate insect photos. Occasionally there are really fine specimen images. Often there are dusty crumpled images of pinned bees that don’t display diagnostic features.
  • Lack of really clear trait images/drawings.

There are certainly great resources that attack some of these problems. Exotic Bee ID, Jackson’s key to Willamette Valley species, DiscoverLife. But I would like to make my own key, for taxa most relevant to our collection, with local, quality images of characters and exemplars. I want a polyclave key, that lets a user pick which characters to enter in narrowing down ID choices.

I’ve stumbled across a platform for creating a lucid-type interactive key, for free: T he biodiversity collaborative management platform

I’ve used this to make a genus key specifically for the taxa we’ve collected in several years of work in WA and OR. I’ve illustrated it with examples from this collection, and placed links to iNaturalist observations for each genus in OR and WA..

Interactive key for bee genera of the Prairie Pollinator Project.

I’ve made this, and species keys, for our own project. It allows me to efficiently define taxa so that a colleague knows how to make IDs consistent with mine, even if we later revise the classification.

But I am also interested in using this kind of key for citizen science. In iNat, most bee IDs are probably determined by the algorithm and expert input. I am as excited as anyone by the power of this. But my notion is that better diagnostic tools would empower amateurs to learn the traits that define taxa. It would encourage them to make better photos to capture diagnostic details. It would give them a basis for discussion with experts.

I’d love to know what you think. I’ll note a couple of caveats:

Difficult technical keys are of course necessary in many cases. To get to species often requires understanding details and terminology that are beyond typical amateur ability. Any key I make has to be explicit about the limitations. My genus key is good for 99% of bees that we’ve collected in our target habitat. It will show a user what other iNaturalists have seen that fit the ID. But it will miss very rare genera, or common items outside of our study habitat.

The biodiversity collaborative software is very nicely designed, but has limitations. A key one is an apparent lack of any kind of support – many emails sent to the www site are unanswered. So I have a problem that my own troubleshooting cannot resolve. (I have created new descriptors [one is “Using this key”] that don’t appear in the list on the www page – they are only found by searching for them, which would not be obvious to a user).

--David Cappaert

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Even and I have been thinking about making a key on that site or possibly moving some of our keys to that site or a similar site. Just the other day I was looking at a key to the Zopheridae hosted by Lucid Online Player, and I’m sure there are others.

How quick did you find the key creation process to be, if you already had the characters set?

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The documentation is weak, so it took me a little while on the first attempt. For example, I didn’t realize that you could use html. I found that there are 30 minute delays in making a change and having it expressed in the published key. But at this point, if I had images and text ready, it is cut and paste, very quick. I haven’t compared it carefully to Lucid, but it may be easier. And critically, it is free. My only hesitation about fully investing is the problem I mentioned - descriptors that don’t appear in the published key.

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What exactly does that mean? If possible, screenshots would be great.

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The attached graphic should explain. There is no discernible reason for this issue, which has persisted for a week. It would seem to be a deal-killer, so I have to believe that the project will correct it.

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This is a good idea given the western species do pose a larger challenge. Regarding the Discover Life key, they also accept corrections or fine-tuning, which could further improve accuracy and usability. You could also maybe ask about contributing western species info. to DL, even if also creating additional keys. In some association with the DL key, this slideshow (part 1 of 2) covers 28 eastern US genera. There should be considerable genera overlap between eastern and western, which could be helpful. Also see these ongoing ID video meetings (which I think are also eastern).

I also notice you’ve uploaded specimen photos. iNat itself is also gradually becoming a good “key” in its own right as more observations and IDs are made. Particularly, this can be utilized by viewing Identify Suggestions, which allows searching by any taxon and location, filtered by observations, visually similar, or checklist. One general suggestion I’d make is to upload multiple specimen angle photos (at least 2-3) to help achieve more species IDs. I’m also uploading specimens so am exploring ID refinement/resolution issues, e.g. even most Sphecodes, Nomada, or Dialictus iNat specimen photos are difficult to get species IDs for, eastern or western.

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That’s so weird… That, along with the unresponsiveness of the support email, seems like a huge obstacle.

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Nice resource, hope they fix it.

There is a similar open-source option called FSC Identikit from UK.
Also interactive and polyclave.
Here is an example key to Micropezidae by @rainieria using it.

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Ooh, that’s great! Their forum hasn’t been responded to in a long time… interesting.

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Thanks for posting about this and the caveats with xper3. I was thinking of using that program to create an interactive and illustrated key for local Coccinellids but written specifically for the general public to use (no expert jargon, needing only a dorsal view for IDs, mobile friendly, etc.).

The lack of support from the site is very alarming though. Going to keep an eye on this thread to see if anyone posts any more possible alternatives, but I’ll still try out xper3 when I get my data ready.

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Thanks for all of that info. Of course I am a champion of iNat as reference resource. In my genus key I created taxon and area specific links for each item. At the same time, iNat is often unhelpful particularly at the species level, limited by photo quality. Multiple angles–of course, that is my goal in the field. For the focus-stacked images, I mostly use lateral only, because of the time involved.

Certainly there are some taxa for which iNat observations are almost never going to deliver certain ID. E.g., as you suggest: dialictus, Nomada, Sphecodes. For other taxa, photos might get you there, or not. There are tons of bee observations that get highly expert ID (John Asher, and others), but often only at the family or genus level, because the photo(s) lack detail. That isn’t a complaint; folks don’t need fancy cameras or great photography skill to contribute valuable observations. But we do need really good images of select taxa to advance the taxonomy.

You are obviously on board with that. You shoot pinned specimens with a dozen detail photos. If I have a specimen in hand that I think is Nomada xanthura, your observation will probably tell me if we actually have the same species, without working through a key, which may not exist or be easy enough to parse.

So I see two needs that I want to address: better image exemplars, and easier ID tools. I can only make a dent, but maybe a deep one for the limited set of taxa I work with, in Willamette Valley prairies.

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Updates on simple, free, interactive keys. I posted earlier about the biodiversity collaborative platform. It has a simple interface and is fairly easy to build. I now have some back-and-forth with the developer, and hope that I can resolve the problem referred to earlier in this thread.

In the meantime, I have now migrated my bee genus key to Identikit. See an example here: https://www.earthwormsoc.org.uk/fullscreen/earthwormkey. I can’t link to my own draft, because the software runs on an individual computer. To publish on the www requires access to a web server, which I don’t have at the moment.

The two approaches to building keys each have their merits. If anyone else is contemplating using either of these tools, I would be glad to give a detailed run-down of pros and cons.

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One more update on this topic … I’ve figured out how to put the identikit version of a genus key, here: http://davidcappaert.weebly.com/identikit-key.html

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Thank you for the updates! Identikit looks perfect for my uses.

How were you able to embed the key in Weebly? I’m having trouble figuring it out. Did you use HTML code or…?

It took a lot of fooling around. There are 10 ways to do it wrong, all relating to the html treating the page as mobile. I inserted the embed code below.

The harder piece was putting the software on a server–github in my case. The ideal there is to give someone who actually understands IT to handle it. I used my son-in-law.

Anything else I can do to assist, let me know.

Did you mean to add something? I don’t see the code.

The markdown didn’t display. It does if I replace the first “<” on each line with “XX”

XX!DOCTYPE html>
XXhtml>
XXbody>

XXembed src=“https://leptinotarsa.github.io/TomboyReal/identikit/vis.html” width=“980” height=“700”>

XX/body>
XX/html>

Ah, nice, okay.

P.S. I think you can use this character ``` on either side of text to make code

P.P.S. With Google Sites one can simply embed the link to the github site directly

P.P.P.S. I’ve embedded a quick key I made here: https://sites.google.com/view/flyguide/bonus-material/key-to-homalodisca (with the mobile version below it)

I came across a good website key which may be of interest for comparison for this topic, for New Zealand Ichneumonid Wasps. I hadn’t heard of the platform/builder before, which is Lucid Central Identification and Diagnostic Tools. I originally came across this specific key when I saw it featured on a NZ conservation or education agency or organization website.

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