iSpot going mobile

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With mobile devices (smart phones, tablets, pads and pods) becoming increasingly widespread, more and more people are accessing digital resources via apps and mobile-optimised websites. To explore this trend in the natural history context, the Communicate conference ran a session entitled “Apps for Engagement” (Wednesday 24 October 2012), at which I gave a brief presentation on iSpot’s approach to engaging with its mobile audience. Here are some links relating to that presentation.

To find out more and get updates on iSpot developments follow iSpot on Twitter or contact iSpot direct.

Credits: the development of the iSpot app has been led by Will Woods and Richard Greenwood, of the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, with input from other members of the iSpot team, and valuable feedback from people who have tested the app in its early stages. The iSpot keys project has been led by Jon Rosewell, of The Faculty of Mathematics, Computing and Technology at The Open University.

Links for Oxfordshire recorders’ day

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[These links were originally compiled for a workshop in Oxfordshire in Feb 2012, 
but may be of interest more widely.]

These are links to the various sites looked at during the online resources workshop at the Oxfordshire recorders’ day, organised by TVERC on 25 February 2012. Quite a few of these have appeared in the blog before (e.g. citizen science, online identification), but they’re all useful sites so no harm in repeating them.

Photos for identifying wildlife
Following discussion of the pros and cons of using digital photos for wildlife identification we spent some time exploring iSpot (you will be unsurprised to hear!), and what the site does to encourage proper documentation of photo-records and their identification. We also looked in on the iSpot identification keys.

Online recording
Next up was online recording, focusing on Indicia and Birdtrack. Like iSpot, Indicia is one of the projects from OPAL, and it provides a toolkit for adding online recording to an existing website. There are an increasing number of effective recording systems being set up with Indicia, including for the British Dragonfly Society and the BBC’s version of the UK Ladybird Survey.

Birdtrack has been around for a while now, developed by the British Trust for Ornithology and partners, and it really is a superb way of making bird records useful both to you as recorder, and to the conservation organisations that can make use of your data. I’ve only recently started adding my bird records to the site (I’m not much of a birder, so it’s not been a great loss to them!), and am really impressed with the way that Birdtrack handles a range of different types of recording, and provides excellent feedback.

Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blogs: time well-spent, or time, well, just spent?
We looked at just a few examples here including:

The Square Metre at TQ 78286 18846

As for Twitter, just leap in and have a go. I’m @kitenet if you want to follow me. I haven’t found how to make the most of Google+ yet, but I’m on there too.
Other resources
Finally, a mixed bag of other stuff:
  • lots of mapping links on my Kitenet website – grid refs, gazetteers, GIS and other gadgets
  • Nature Societies Online at the Natural History Museum – you’ll be amazed how many wildlife-related groups there are in your county
  • Biodiversity Heritage Library – great library of mostly older natural history and biodiversity science publications, mostly quite old, not only available as good quality scans but also searchable
  • Instant Wild, a well-designed and fun citizen science project that asks you to identify mammals caught on camera from around the world – addictive and useful

Wildlife, citizens, science – Darwin Festival Feb 2012

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Here are some links to do with citizen science and (mostly) wildlife recording, compiled to support a ‘Café Science’ event I’m presenting at the Darwin Festival in Shrewsbury, 17 February 2012.

Citizen Science (CS) projects, entirely online:

  • Herbaria at Home – museums and BSBI in an effective partnership to recruit help with digitising data from plant specimens (UK)
  • Cornell bird identification – innovative project to get people to ‘train’ an online identification system (USA)
  • WhaleFM – help categorise whale songs (international)
  • Instant Wild – help identify mammals recorded on-camera (international)
  • Zooniverse – collection of astronomical CS projects (universal)
  • Mappiness – uses apps to get people to record how happy they are at particular times, intends to look at whether being out in green space improves happiness [of course it does!], among other aims (UK)
Real-world projects with clever online elements:
Thanks to XKCD
  • Evolution Megalab from The Open University – main project has finished but you can still use and contribute to the website
  • Nature’s Calendar – you can contribute records of wildlife seasonal change, and also explore the records already online via some ingenious interactive maps (UK)
  • OPAL surveys – well-designed environmental surveys with online data entry and analysis (UK)
  • Your Wild Life – fun projects looking at wildlife (some of it at micro-organism level) in our homes and on our bodies – armpit biodiversity anyone? (USA)
CS record-breakers:
Wildlife survey CS projects mentioned in the talk:
Other:

Identifying invertebrates: online keys

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On Saturday 30 January, Roger Hawkins and I are running a workshop for the BENHS on using keys for insect identification. We’ll mostly be working with published hard-copy keys, but we’ll include some online keys as well. Below are some examples for various invertebrate groups.

I must admit that I don’t yet make much use of online keys. This is partly because I’m fortunate in having a good range of printed keys available to me, and I’m sure it’s also partly a case of ‘sticking with what I know’ rather than spending time learning the online ones (all keys require time spent on them to get familiar with their particular approach). However, I think there are still some problems with online keys, from the practical one of having to have a computer within easy view of your specimen or microscope, to more intrinsic issues about the ease of flicking through a book to compare different sections, as opposed to having to switch between different windows on a computer.

However, online keys are likely to become more widespread and will no doubt get better as time goes on, just as printed ones have (and continue to do so), and no doubt the two will be seen as complementary rather than an either/or choice.

See below for some online keys to try out. For a longer list (including plants and other groups as well as invertebrates) see my bookmarks on delicious, and let me know if there are any other good keys out there, or any thoughts you have on using online keys. A post on downloadable keys will follow.

Various groups
The most comprehensive set of online keys that I am aware of is the DELTA Intkey system. This requires you to download some software onto your computer, after which you can either download various individual keys, or run them from the web.

At the moment there is quite a wide range of keys available within this system, for various taxonomic groups (not just invertebrates) and different parts of the world, but for UK insect purposes they include:

Orders of insects, families of Coleoptera, families of Diptera, genera of Ephemeroptera, families of Hemiptera, families of Hymenoptera, families of Lepidoptera, genera of butterflies, genera of Geometridae, genera of Noctuidae, species of Phyllonorycter, species of Odonata, genera of Orthoptera, families of Trichoptera.

These are multi-access keys so that you can answer the set of questions in any sequence, and need only answer the ones you’re confident of – the system will endeavour to give you a best match of one or more names for your specimen. I’ve made most use of the family keys for Coleoptera and Diptera, but I have to admit they’ve not proved as helpful as I hoped, and I still tend to return to paper-based single-access (dichotomous) keys for backup. But it is always good to have additional keys available for comparison, and no doubt if I used them more I’d get more used to their idiosyncrasies and perhaps find them more helpful.

There are some draft online keys available on iSpot (part of OPAL), including a simple ‘key to minibeasts’ – this part of iSpot is still under development, and there’ll be more to come.

Coleoptera
The Watford Coleoptera Group (click on “ID aids”) are making a range of identification aids available, some in the form of keys, some as notes on particular species or groups of species.

Hymenoptera
[added on 10 February 2010]
The Natural History Museum provides a very useful key to bumblebees.

Diptera
These online keys to various families of Diptera are managed by Paul Beuk, who also runs the excellent Diptera.info. You may need to register on Diptera.info to get full access to the keys. Some of these keys are online versions of existing printed keys, others are new (e.g. includes the best key I’m aware of for genus Sylvicola in family Anisopodidae).

Not a key, but some very helpful support for keys is provided by the Anatomical Atlas of Flies, from CSIRO in Australia. This is a truly excellent web implementation of a morphology diagram and glossary of names for parts of flies, using detailed close-ups of real insect specimens. But it needs a good broadband connection to work at any speed!

Mark van Veen’s Faunist is a Dutch site with keys to various families of Diptera, plus Odonata, Orthoptera and sea-shells. The latter three are in Dutch only, but most of the Diptera keys are in English. They are well-illustrated and easy to use, and I think cover most of the British species in the families included. Plenty of information about the species is given (but remember that this refers to the fauna in Holland, which will include additional species and different habitats/behaviours compared to the UK).

Some of these keys to robber-flies (Asilidae) by Fritz Geller-Grimm are applicable to the UK (others cover various parts of the world).

For those flies with larvae that produce leaf-mines (largely Agromyzidae, plus a few Anthomyiidae etc.) there are keys based on the foodplant on the excellent UK Fly Mines site.

Lepidoptera
Similarly, for leaf-mines of Lepidoptera try Barry Dickerson’s online key, on the British Leafminers website. This is largely based on volumes 1 and 2 of “The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland”, but with some additions and revisions. A very useful resource (but be aware of all the non-lepidopterous insects that also make leaf-mines, most of which are listed, but not keyed, elsewhere on the site).

Butterfly Conservation/Moths Count provide a simple key to day-flying moths.

Odonata
There is a good identification key to Irish dragonflies and damselflies, but it covers males only, and not all UK species are included.

Mollusca
The Conchological Society provide some online keys and other identification notes for various groups of snails and slugs.

Arachnida
This German website has a key to European spider families.

iSpot – helping people learn about wildlife

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iSpot was launched last summer: “iSpot is the place to learn more about wildlife and to share your interest with a friendly community. Take a look at the latest spots, start your own album of observations, join a group and get help identifying what you have seen.”

iSpot has been developed by the Open University as part of the Open Air Laboratories project (OPAL), with funding from the Big Lottery Fund. I’ve been part of the team working on it for the last year or so.

Here’s an introduction to what iSpot is all about:

So far we have over 1,000 registered users on the site, including a healthy mix of beginners and more experienced naturalists, all busy helping each other identify what they’ve seen. One thing we’re trying to encourage on the site is for people to explain why a species is that particular species, not just give its name. Of course, not all species can be identified from photos or descriptions, and the site allows this to be shown clearly where necessary.

Several national and local recording schemes have representatives active on the site, and they are being ‘badged’ with a logo next to their user name so that every time they are active on the site a link is given back to their society’s website. If you’re involved with a recording scheme or society and would like to find out more about this please do contact iSpot.

links from Moths and the Media talk

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Here are the links to many of the websites referred to in the “Moths and the Media” talk I gave in Newbury on 19 May 2009, for Butterfly Conservation and BBOWT, and again for Moths Count at the South Wales Moth Recorders’ Gathering, September 2009.

Many of the links, including most of the ‘serious’ mothing identification sites and online resources for moth recorders, have already been listed in my previous post on this subject and aren’t repeated here. The ones that are new:

Additional mothing sites

Online mapping and grid references

  • Where’s the path – OS maps and Google aerial photos side-by-side (this site has recently moved URL)
  • Grab a grid reference – excellent innovation from Keith Balmer for Bedfordshire Natural History Society, displays grid reference squares at various resolutions over Google maps and aerials (works throughout UK)

Moth-related blogs (a small and fairly random selection from among many)

Moth miscellany