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Citizen science and global biodiversity
Citizen science and global biodiversity

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9 Summary of Week 3

The accurate identification of organisms is essential when discussing biodiversity. Without knowing what it is that has been found, observations of animals and plants are of little interest or value. An accurate identification opens up new avenues of knowledge, allowing the description of ecological communities and the tracking of any changes that may be occurring.

However, accurate identification of many organisms is difficult. Fortunately, though, there is a range of published material to help with this, from field guides to specialist literature. Formal identification often depends on the use of dichotomous keys – that is, a series of questions, the answers to which lead to yet more questions until only a single alternative remains. These can be difficult to use, however, and are error-prone since a single mistake will lead to the wrong conclusion. They also do not easily support strategies such as confirming or refuting a hunch or deciding between likely alternatives.

This week you compared using a traditional dichotomous key with using an online iSpot Bayesian key via example images of dragonflies and damselflies. Next week you will look at a case study on monitoring monarch butterflies.

Now that you have a good understanding of how and why we need to make accurate species identifications, next week you will be looking at what types of surveys can be carried out to collect information about species distribution and abundance. This is essential for making an assessment of biodiversity. Such studies require enormous datasets to build up an accurate picture so, once equipped with identification skills, citizen scientists can play an important role in collecting this data.

You can now go to Week 4 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .