Since hundreds of Lucid builders have been distributed over the past 6 years or so, many different types of keys have been developed, for a range of taxa and for a range of purposes. Two areas where identification is of critical importance – quarantine and biodiversity – are discussed below. However, for an indication of the full range of Lucid keys developed, visit www.lucidcentral.org and click on the Search for a Key button. You can search by taxon type, key words, Internet keys, etc. for details of those keys that have been entered on the site by their authors.
Correct identification of insect pests, diseases, weeds and beneficial species is a critical requirement for implementing management plans for quarantine and plant health. However, the world-wide decline in taxonomic expertise has made many identification services either unavailable or prohibitively expensive, especially for developing countries. Computer-based keys provide one solution to this problem. For instance, Lucid keys are being developed and deployed as:
Specialist keys for plant health/quarantine identifiers – developed by world experts for such difficult groups as thrips, mites and fruit flies, thus making their expertise readily available to support specialist plant health scientists and quarantine identifiers.
Training and operational keys for quarantine officers and advisors – to provide quarantine officers and crop protection advisors with a tool to key out the easier groups and make quarantine and crop protection decisions. Where difficult taxonomic groups are encountered, the key advises the user to pass these specimens on to specialist identifiers
Keys for farmers and the general public – who often provide valuable information about the incidence and spread of quarantine or invasive species. With access to easy-to-use keys, farmers and others are likely to be in a much better position to determine whether an unusual organism they detect is likely to be an invasive species or not.
Many Lucid keys have been developed for biodiversity monitoring, providing ecologists or conservation groups with a valuable identification and information tool. One of the earliest Lucid keys developed in Australia was on fresh water aquatic invertebrates, providing a resource for water quality assessment. More recently, the Australian Museum in Sydney has “published” a series of “Faunakeys” on their web site, including Heteroptera and stink bugs of Australia and flower chafers, Christmas beetles, dung beetles, Criocerinae, Spilopyrinae, Sagrinae and Chrysomelinae of New South Wales
Another important role for Lucid software is in the education field. Apart from the use of existing Lucid keys in schools and universities as part of their course work – for instance, the use of the Orders of Insects key in systematics courses – there is increasing interest is students developing their own keys, as a valuable and active learning experience. Earlier this year a special educational version of Lucid was released – Lucid-ID – that includes a series of project material for students to develop keys using supplied content and ideas on how to develop keys on their own chosen topic.
Recent experience suggests that computer-based identification keys will become an increasingly important part of the move towards making taxonomy on-line. However, to fully realise this potential a number of issues need to be addressed, all relating in one way or another to resource issues.
First, we need to address the issue of the resources required to develop keys. Being in a digital form, the content of computer-based keys can be easily transferred and added to by other key developers, allowing content to be shared and achieving greater cost effectiveness in producing identification keys. However, to achieve this in practice often requires advance planning. For instance, a group of taxonomists in Australia have obtained funding to develop a key to the families of Australian flies. Although this initial key has an Australian focus, it is being developed as the first stage of a world key. Colleagues in other continents have already been involved or are being consulted about future developments to expand the scope of the key to include all fly families.
CBIT is seeking to address these resource issues in various ways, all of them aimed at making the process of key development more efficient. One of the main time consuming activities in key development is the development and incorporation of html taxon fact sheets. CBIT has recently developed a fact sheet builder that allows users to input their text and images in simple form that is then converted to a style sheet according to the template chosen. Other initiatives involve combining and converting Lucid Phoenix keys into Lucid3 keys and exploring the feasibility of producing a Lucid score matrix by parsing natural language descriptions. A more ambitious aim, involving a number of collaborators, is to develop a means of accessing distributed databases of morphological characters to allow Lucid keys to be developed on the fly for a specific list of taxa.
The other set of issues that need to be addressed concern the resources required to sustain the software tools for developing and deploying computer-based keys. A number of key systems have been developed in the past and many of them are no longer supported or maintained. The CBIT/Lucid strategy aims to obtain funding to continue development and support of Lucid software by combining a commercial approach with project grants, contracts and donor funding. With increasing calls for taxonomic information and keys to be “free-to-air” across the Internet, the issue of who pays to sustain software development and support remains. As with other biological software, with a limited, niche market, this issue will continue to be a challenge.
I wish to acknowledge colleagues in the Centre for Biological Information for their role in making Lucid happen – in particular, Kevin Thiele, Matt Taylor, Damien Barnier, Dan Marzano, Paul Holmes and Robert Smith. We are grateful to many key authors, colleagues and organisations in Australia and overseas, too numerous to mention by name, for providing ideas and support for the Lucid strategy.