Identification tools on different media

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An example of KeyToNature printed identification key
Using an identification key with a smart-phone
Identification in the field with an off-line identification key on a laptop

The identification tools can be used with different media. In the past only printed keys were available, but nowadays interactive computer-aided keys are more and more popular.

Printed keys

Being printed on paper, their content is "frozen". Nomenclatural-taxonomic changes, progress in floristic exploration or the discovery of new species often render a flora outdated within a few decades. They can include a limited amount of photographs, distribution maps etc.

On the other hand, paper-printed keys, while bulky and rigid, may still enjoy a longer, safer life-span, while on-line keys can disappear in a moment. They are also usable when no technological support is available and because their content is frozen, they can be safely cited as a source of information, while the content of resources published in the web can change continuously. Furthermore, researchers, as well as amateurs, are often more attracted by books than by resources published in digital format.

A large majority of the KeyToNature tools can be printed by users (in case they need to be used where electronic devices are not available) and some of them are already published in books.

Interactive computer-aided keys

Computer-based programs can use a wealth of morphological-anatomical data in a multi-dimensional way, plus the distributional-ecological information usually hidden in the ocean of scientific literature. Identification keys are now available on the web in a great range of formats, contents, and query interfaces (dichotomous, polytomous, multi-access or multi-entry). They can derive from a paper-printed counterpart, or can be created ex novo from original data as are, for example, some of the keys of the World Biodiversity Database or some of those available in the eFloras web pages. Thanks to an optimised hierarchy of identification characters and an extensive use of pictures and other resources which is hardly possible in a book, the new identification tools are often much more user-friendly than the classical paper-printed keys. Most KeyToNature identification tools are published on-line and are freely accessible.

But the internet is not the best medium for an identification key when an effective internet connection is not available, or for carrying out identifications in the field. This is the reason why many keys are available or can be stored on CD- and/or DVD-Roms. To render identification in the field possible, the keys can be transferred on media such as PocketPCs and Smartphones, which are small, light, and easy to use.

The keys on media other than the Web may have some restrictions:

  • Limited image support. The image archives of Dryades contain a huge number of pictures, which cannot be stored easily on a CD- or DVD-Rom, or on mobile devices, because of obvious storage size limitations.
  • Dichotomous query interfaces only, because these can be transformed in a series of simple HTML pages. The multi-entry interfaces require a query system working on a database. This is possible on-line, but is not transferrable to optical supports because of the size of the database and the need for a complex re-engineering of its querying system.