BEN # 157

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No. 157                              February 15, 1997

aceska@freenet.victoria.bc.ca        Victoria, B.C.
 Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2

From: M. J. Dallwitz, T. A. Paine, and E. J. Zurcher

Computer-based  multi-access  keys,  also  known  as interactive
keys, can offer several advantages over conventional keys:

    A correct identification can be made in spite of errors by
    the user or in the data.

    Characters can be used, and their values changed, in any

    Numeric characters can be used directly, without being
    divided into ranges.

    The user can express uncertainty by entering more than one
    state value, or a range of numerical values.

Other desirable features include:

    Advice on the most suitable characters to use at  any  stage
    of an identification.

    Character  dependencies:  certain  character  values  making
    other characters inapplicable.

    Provision for  gaps  in  the  values  recorded  for  integer
    numeric characters.

    Storing, searching, and displaying free-text information.

    Locating errors which were circumvented by the
    error-tolerance mechanism.

    Use of probabilities.

    Provision for restricting any operations to subsets of the
    characters and taxa.

    Glossaries and notes on interpretation of characters.

    Illustrations of characters and taxa.

    Provision for information retrieval.

    Finding the differences and similarities between taxa.

    Finding diagnostic descriptions.

    The ability to handle large data sets efficiently.

    Data sharing with other description-based applications:
    description writing, generation of conventional keys, and
    phenetic and cladistic analysis.

It  is  an inevitable consequence of the flexibility of interac-
tive keys that much of the strategy involved in carrying out  an
identification  is  left  to  the  user. Good strategies must be
learnt if the keys are to be used to the best advantage.

M. J. Dallwitz, T. A. Paine, and E. J. Zurcher
Division of Entomology, CSIRO, GPO Box 1700, Canberra, ACT 2601,
Australia. Fax +61 6 246 4000. Email delta@ento.csiro.au.
Home Page http://www.keil.ukans.edu/delta/

From: Alex Inselberg <aei@junction.net>

[This is an  abbreviated  abstract  of  the  Forest  Renewal  of
British Columbia funding proposal.]

RAPID  will  be  an  interactive  plant  identification computer
program which will greatly accelerate the process of identifying
vascular plants, bryophytes and lichens within B.C. The  program
and  its  database  will  continue  to grow and evolve, and will
possibly  become  our  most  valuable  and  readily   accessible
resource for plant identification. Images and line drawings will
be  an  integral  part  of  RAPID.  In addition to the program's
primary function, it will also be a useful teaching aid.

The random access approach to plant  identification  is  dynamic
compared  with  the restrictive dichotomous key approach used in
traditional paper-based methods. This  will  allow  greater  ex-
ploration  of  the  rich  descriptive  attributes  of plants, in
addition to their  ecological  characteristics.  RAPID  will  be
constructed  as  a relational database, which is a sophisticated
and efficient way to store and quickly retrieve information.

Plant identification will begin with the selection of any  of  a
variety  of  characteristics  from an introductory menu. For ex-
ample, identification will involve decisions on  the  following:
location  in the province, type of site, plant life form, physi-
cal size features, and a variety of properties  associated  with
stems,  leaves, inflorescence types, flowers, fruits, and roots.
If you have an idea of the plant family or genus,  you  will  be
able  to  begin your search from that point. With each selection
of a characteristic feature the list of likely candidate species
is potentially shortened. The program will also advise on  those
characters  most  likely  to  discriminate  amongst  the species
remaining. For example, if the type of leaf margin  is  able  to
discriminate  amongst  the  remaining  species in your candidate
list, it will automatically move to the  top  of  your  list  of
"best" characters.

In  the  event  a  given  plant characteristic cannot be clearly
defined, e.g. a leaf is pubescent or possibly tomentose, you can
ask the program to include all species with either  description.
Likewise if you are unsure your sample is considered a tree or a
shrub,  you can include both trees and shrubs in your selection.
For those species which may be indistinguishable without  exper-
tise  and  access  to  materials such as a microscope or special
chemicals, the user will be notified  with  a  warning  message.
Likewise  if  a crucial plant component must be present in order
to make a positive identification, the user will be notified.

Plant names may be displayed  in  either  common  or  scientific
names,  along  with the correct Latin code used to enter species
names on field data forms. Explanation of any of the terminology
used in the menus and keys will also be readily available in the
form of text, diagrams and images.

Approach: Efforts are being made to learn about similar  systems
and  initiatives  in  other parts of the world. RAPID's features
will be carefully selected to ensure it meets the needs of field
personnel here in B.C., as well as the broader goals and  stand-
ards  of  international  data exchange. RAPID will ultimately be
the property of the B.C. Government.  Wherever  possible,  RAPID
will  be  a  cooperative effort with other developers of similar
initiatives and databases within and outside of the province.

When this project goes ahead, a web page will be constructed for
the purpose of information exchange and updates.

For more information on interactive plant identification see the

[For interactive identification programs  see  also  BEN  #  96,
March 25, 1995.]

From: Mike Dallwitz <miked@ento.csiro.au>

The  DELTA  programs,  and  several data sets, are available via
anonymous ftp from
    ftp.keil.ukans.edu (directory: /pub/delta) and via WWW from

The file Index.txt (note the upper-case I) contains  a  list  of
the  available  programs and data. Most of the subdirectories of
delta contain text files *.1st which contain  information  about
downloading  and  installing  the  programs or data in that sub-
directory. When using ftp, always enter the command `binary'  at
the start of the session.

When downloading the program distribution files, place them in a
directory  \DELTA.  To install the programs, follow the instruc-
tions in Delta.1st.

The programs are supplied with documentation files, sample data,
and a list of references. The conditions of use are  in  a  file
delta.use,  and  the prices in delta.reg. These files are within
both of the self-extracting archive  files  delta1@.exe  (MS-DOS
INTKEY) and deltaw@.exe (MS-Windows INTKEY).

There  is  a  mailing list, DELTA-L, for discussion of DELTA and
announcements of updates. To subscribe, send the message
    SUBSCRIBE DELTA-L your-first-name your-last-name by email to

Submissions, subscriptions, etc.:  aceska@freenet.victoria.bc.ca
BEN is archived on gopher freenet.victoria.bc.ca. The URL is:
Also archived at   http://www.ou.edu/cas/botany-micro/ben/