[Taxacom] (Fwd) Dichotomous key software

Stinger Stinger at stingersplace.com
Wed Aug 30 16:31:10 CDT 2006


Jerry,

Well certainly paper - especially laminated paper - is easy to carry
around, reasonably durable, cheap and easy. As for things that are easy
to carry around most people have a PDA or cell phone (you can run the
interactive key program SLIKS on a PDA and many mobile phones). Then
there is the ubiquitous new organ that has evolved to be part of the
phenotype of all undergrads these days, an iPOD (you can run the
dichotomous key output from Electronic Field Guide on an iPOD or a PDA
or most mobile phones). On the other hand, the dichotomous key often
isn't going to be useable at all to ID trees in the winter if the first
couplet requires leaves or flowers.  If you're dead set on
dichotomous keys on paper though, the EFG does multiple output formats
(like a PDF that you can print), it's free, easy, and you don't need to
learn DeLTa to use it. You can even do picture only keys with either of
the programs.  

Cheers,

Stinger Guala

EFG is at  http://efg.cs.umb.edu/keys/html/index.html

SLIKS is at http://www.stingersplace.com/SLIKS/

Jerry Bricker <jbricker at nebrwesleyan.edu>

Sent by: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu

08/30/2006 03:49 PM

To: farmer at cb.uga.edu

cc: taxacom <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>

Subject: Re: [Taxacom] (Fwd) Dichotomous key software

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


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