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ECN-L  May 2012, Week 1

ECN-L May 2012, Week 1

Subject:

Re: insect identification success rates

From:

Robert Anderson <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Robert Anderson <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 7 May 2012 21:26:17 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (88 lines)

Back in the late 1990s the late Steve Ashe and I put together a paper looking of patterns of endemism and diversity in leaf litter staphylinids and weevils.  We sampled 13 sites in Honduras and I had a "herd" of weevils to process.  The first iteration resulted in about 325 morphospecies, a second cut it to around 300 or so, and a few refining checks involving dissections dropped it to the 280's then finally back up to 293.  My point is that getting that final tally was no easy matter and I spent a lot of time finally being comfortable with the end result.  And this was just a morphospecies sort by a so called 'expert' ; putting on real names would take MUCH longer, if even possible.  

There is no safe or easy or cheap way to cut corners in identifying to the species level but a solution is simple:  more people, good training, reasonable time expectations .... or ...  DNA barcoding, but let's not go there in these discussions.

Robert Anderson
Research Division
Canadian Museum of Nature
PO Box 3443, Station D
Ottawa, ON. K1P 6P4 CANADA
 
613-364-4060 (tel)
613-364-4027 (fax)
[log in to unmask]
www.nature.ca
https://sites.google.com/site/longinollama/



-----Original Message-----
From: Entomological Collections Network Listserve [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Michael A. Ivie
Sent: May-07-12 4:14 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: insect identification success rates

In fact, that level of expertise that Kip worries about is commonly used among biodiversity amateurs (read ecologists).  I have an example from a University of Wyoming study funded by the NPS after the Yellowstone fires.
 Undergrads were used to sort and identify the beetles, and a gray literature report to the feds done based on them that still pops up in citations now and then.  We still keep the vouchers together because the work is so flawed we don't know how to deal with it. 15 mm long tenebrionids and carabids sorted to the same morphospecies is an example.

And, at the LTER site in Puerto Rico, I found ecologists reporting common phasmids in the leaf litter, which turned out to be lycid larvae, but the paper was already out, and there was no interest in correcting it.  No vouchers were kept in that project.

No systematist running such a project would have that high of an error rate, even using relative novices.  I have seen undergrads who can do this work with a high degree of accuracy, with training, supervision and support.

Of course there are ecologists who know what they are doing.  Here at MSU Kevin O'Neill for instance goes to great lengths to make sure his material is ided correctly, but he was trained by Howard Evans.  The move from having ecologists trained in taxon oriented units (i.e. entomology programs)to cross-disciplinary ones (Depts of Ecology for instance) is making this worse.

It would be impossible to quantify error rates over a range of studies, the scale bars would encompass the total range.

Mike

> On 5/7/2012 11:46 AM, Mike Ferro wrote:
>> Asking novices to sort specimens to morphospecies and recording 
>> accuracy would make a great little paper for American Entomologist. 
>> If someone is teaching an intro to entomology class they would have 
>> 15+ "volunteers" right there.
>
> Knowing this might have pedagogical value, but of course we can't 
> expect novice intro ent students to do much more than passing at the 
> familial level. What would this be compared to? I expect that 15 
> novices turned loose in my lab to do PCRs would have a pretty 
> miserable success rate. I hope no one is thinking of using such 
> identification for actual research. But then, that citizen scientist thing is all the rage.
>
> k.
>
> --
>
> Contact info:
>
> Kipling W. Will
> Associate Professor/Insect Systematist Associate Director,Essig Museum 
> of Entomology
>
> send specimens to:
> Essig Museum of Entomology
> 1101 Valley Life Sciences Building, #4780 University of California, 
> Berkeley Berkeley, CA 94720-4780
>
> letter mail to:
> 130 Mulford Hall
> ESPM Dept.- Organisms & Environment Div.
> University of California
> Berkeley, California 94720
>
> phone 510-642-XXXX
> fax 510-643-5438
>


--
Michael A. Ivie, Ph.D., F.R.E.S.
Montana Entomology Collection
Marsh Labs, Room 50
NW corner of Lincoln and S.19th
Montana State University
Bozeman, MT 59717-3020
USA

(406) 994-4610 (voice)
(406) 994-6029 (FAX)
[log in to unmask]

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