I tried gobotany several times and had about the same luck as I’ve had with dichotomous keys in books. Part of the disconnect, I think, is in the way botanists (or any other specialist) looks at their subject, versus how an amateur looks at it. Most keys seem to think, what is the platonic ideal of the plant and how can we describe it, rather than what does this actual specimen give you to work with. That is one of the beautiful things in the Audubon categories: It’s all in plain english, and works with attributes that are observable on the fly.
I think it does fall within the scope of iNat, though I agree that it would ideally be a separate open-source database that any service could use. Often, image recognition can get you so fine a taxon suggestion, and even then it is best to learn about the distinctive attributes of the species before you agree. A multi-access key (thanks @choess!) would be a great educational tool and identification guide.
Maybe this already exists. I couldn’t make much of the fairly technical SLIKS/SAIKS or LSU Herbarium links, and Lucid also looks pretty user-unfriendly.
Here is the vision:
Database for everything on the tree of life, with useful attribute tags to describe the distinctive features of every species.
Woah. Every species?
I’m sure this could be worked on gradually, and rolled out incrementally. Entries for every species could be generated the same way that they are for iNat. The work would be volunteer-based and crowdsourced online. Specialists of different stripes could contribute to the development of their branches of interests. As branches are filled out, they could be marked as ready for use, and suddenly if you get to that taxon, you have a set of attribute questions you can answer to narrow down to species. This is how we all use books, but we scan for attributes in the narrative-form species descriptions, rather than categorizing by attribute tags.
I’m proposing it rather than just doing it because:
- I don’t know it there are any other projects working on this kind of thing.
- I’m not a developer, and don’t know how to get the database started, or best practices on how to keep it organized.
- I’d like to see if there is any interest on the forum I know about on the internet most likely to geek out on this kind of project.
- I think there would be a great integration between this kind of database and iNat.
There are several genera that, if I had the technical know-how, I’d love to work up this kind of key.