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ECN-L  May 2012, Week 1

ECN-L May 2012, Week 1

Subject:

Re: insect identification success rates

From:

James Whitfield <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

James Whitfield <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 7 May 2012 11:33:23 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (56 lines)

Hi Colin,

That indeed would be interesting.  Probably if it has been done, there
would have to have been some anonymity involved.  I suspect taxonomists
are not all that keen about having their failure rate exposed! Although
deep down they would probably like to know that answer themselves...

It also depends on the ID question being asked.  I served for 9 years (as
part of my faculty position at University of Arkansas) as an identifier
for the Extension service.  I suspect my error rate for that was far less
than 5%, partly because the IDs were often easy common pests or natural
enemies, but also because I exerted a lot of effort to make sure I was not
wrong, because there might be economic consequences.

On the other hand, I do many thousands of parasitoid IDs (probably over
3000 this year alone) for tropical ecology projects. These involve IDs in
hyperdiverse groups in hyperdiverse regions of the world, on groups with
rapidly expanding but still not fully adequate knowledge bases.  In many
cases I am asked not what species I have (since 90% of them are
undescribed anyway), but whether specimen A reared from one host belongs
to the same species as specimen B reared from another host. If it's in a
group with lots of similar-looking species, I likely need help. Usually if
there are DNA barcodes (and preferably even more supporting molecular
data, although COI works better than I expected in my group) AND my
morphological assessment AND host data, I can approach a high level of
correct IDs, as with the common US stuff.  Otherwise, I bet I am at a
level that can be approached or beaten by DNA barcodes alone (I realize
this might be not comparable to the situation with Orthoptera, where the
barcodes have lots of problems and the species might be easier to separate
morphologically).  I bet your aphids are like my wasps?

Jim



> 	Does anyone know of a reference that attempted to quantify the proportion
> of correctly identified insect specimens of any group in any context?
> Obviously, there is a wide range of proportions of correct identification
> depending on who did the IDs, how long ago they were done, what taxa were
> IDd, what taxon concepts were used, etc., etc. I know of publications
> quantifying ID failings in molecular databases; just wondering if anyone
> has ever looked into the issue with respect to the specimens themselves.
> 	I'll post a summary if I find out anything at all.
>
> Many thanks, Colin
>


-- 
James B. Whitfield
Department of Entomology
320 Morrill Hall
505 S. Goodwin Avenue
University of Illinois
Urbana, IL 61801
http://www.life.illinois.edu/whitfield

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