[Taxacom] (Fwd) Dichotomous key software

Jerry Bricker jbricker at nebrwesleyan.edu
Wed Aug 30 14:49:12 CDT 2006


This is interesting.  I've gotten several replies strongly  
recommending that I steer away from paper dichotomous keys and  
instead go with interactive keys (Lucid and Delta are most often  
mentioned).  It makes me wonder if I'm starting to get old and set in  
my ways, that I've missed a recent memo suggesting that interactive  
keys are now the standard "industry" format, or that there's a strong  
desire to kill less trees (I hope it's the latter and not the  
former)...  A little background information on why we want  
dichotomous keys might help.

Our campus is officially designated an arboretum and is part of the  
Nebraska State Arboretum system.  All biology majors are required to  
take an introductory course in botany.  One of the lab activities is  
a "tree walk" where students walk about campus and learn how to  
identify plants (i.e., trees) in the field.  Hence, the need for a  
paper version of a dichotomous key (key is a booklet also given to  
visitors to the arboretum).  Next August two other faculty members  
and I will take a group of students to the Boundary Waters in  
Minnesota for a 5-6 day canoe trip.  One requirement for that class  
will be plant identification of plants in the field.

In both cases I cannot imagine how an interactive key would ever be a  
viable option.  Lugging a several pound laptop into the field to  
identify organisms seems like overkill when a paper version weighing  
a few ounces will do just as well.  I guess I need an explanation as  
to why there would ever be an emphasis on interactive key software  
programs over dichotomous keys?  Most of the identification that I do  
is in the field.  Older field guides generally include keys for  
identification but the more recently published guides lack them, the  
emphasis is instead on full color photos.  Nothing beats a field  
guide with line drawings and a good key for identification.

As much as I appreciate technology and the contribution computers  
make I find myself being a bit of Luddite when it comes to the idea  
of chucking out dichotomous keys.  Taking time to produce a pretty  
interactive key seems like a waste of time.  My target audience  
already spends too much time in front of a computer.  They need to  
grab a backpack, head out into the woods, and sit under a tree while  
trying to identify something cool they've just found.  Difficult  
groups of organisms being treated in monographs, etc. should continue  
to use the old fashioned dichotomous key.  Computer servers go down,  
websites change, specialists die, but their paper version keys will  
live on for decades.

I better go, I'm feeling like a grumpy old man.

Cheers!

JB

On Aug 30, 2006, at 12:49 PM, farmer at cb.uga.edu wrote:

> Dear Jerry,
>
> I would strongly recommend that you steer away from dichotomous keys
> and instead look at LUCID or one of the intereactive keys like it.
>
> These tend to be more robust, more flexible, easier to use, and  
> more easily
> expanded as more taxa and characters become available.
>
> You might also wish to partner with Discover Life
> http://www.discoverlife.org/
> which has some excellent ID Nature guides built around the  
> interactive key
> approach.
>
> -Mark Farmer
>
>
>
> ------- Forwarded message follows -------
> To:             	taxacom <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
> From:           	Jerry Bricker <jbricker at nebrwesleyan.edu>
> Date sent:      	Wed, 30 Aug 2006 11:23:21 -0500
> Subject:        	[Taxacom] Dichotomous key software
>
> [ Double-click this line for list subscription options ]
>
> Hello all,
>
> We're looking to redo some keys to campus plants and would like to
> use a software package to do so.  I understand there are some good
> programs out there that will make the task easier.  Can any give me
> suggestions as to which are the best.  Our department primarily is
> set up to use Macs so that platform would be our first choice.
>
> JB
>
>
> __________________________________
>
> Jerry Bricker
> Assistant Professor of Biology
> Department of Biology
> Nebraska Wesleyan University
> 5000 Saint Paul Avenue
> Lincoln, NE 68504-2794
> Phone: 402-465-2446
> FAX: 402-465-2179
> E-mail: jbricker at nebrwesleyan.edu
> Web: http://biology.nebrwesleyan.edu/jbricker
>
> "Every time a shaman dies, it is as if a library burns down."
>
> Mark Plotkin from his book Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice.
>
>
>
> _______________________________________________
> Taxacom mailing list
> Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> http://mailman.nhm.ku.edu/mailman/listinfo/taxacom
> ------- End of forwarded message -------Mark A. Farmer
> Dept. Cellular Biology
> 724 Biological Sciences Bldg.						
> University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602
> (706)542-3383 Voice   (706)542-4271 FAX
> farmer at cb.uga.edu
>
> (This message is made of 100% recycled electrons)
>



__________________________________

Jerry Bricker
Assistant Professor of Biology
Department of Biology
Nebraska Wesleyan University
5000 Saint Paul Avenue
Lincoln, NE 68504-2794
Phone: 402-465-2446
FAX: 402-465-2179
E-mail: jbricker at nebrwesleyan.edu
Web: http://biology.nebrwesleyan.edu/jbricker

"Every time a shaman dies, it is as if a library burns down."

Mark Plotkin from his book Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice.



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