Overview of interactive keys – Provided by Gregor Hagedorn

January 12, 2007 at 2:57 pm | Posted in Biodiversity Informatics, Comparison, Tools | 4 Comments

Many thanks go to who has agreed for us to reproduce this text.
The following is a summary of discussions at a BGBM Seminar (Berlin) on 5.Dec.2006. It is placed here under Creative Commons licences 2.5. By placing it here it is hoped that the ideas and notes may be useful to others. Please note, however, that the list of programs is neither complete nor are the feature lists complete. The main aim of the seminar was to sharpen the actual requirements for programs within the EDIT project, and to narrow down the choice of programs to be further evaluated. In addition to interactive identification, other important considerations were possibility to link into taxonomic databases, creation of natural language descriptions, and use in phylogenetic or other data analysis.

Note: if you find any errors or omissions, please annotate or correct them! Please leave comments below and we will incorporate as many changes as possible

Pure Multiple Entry keys (optimized for this)

These tend to be good for the narrow identification purpose, but achieve this by focussing and ignoring other purposes (data management, using data for natural language descriptions, keys, or analysis purposes).

ETI Linneaeus II/III (Netherlands)

  • Authoring system (originally for CDs) for text, images, literature, etc.
  • Model: “Write this in Word, we will convert this into authoring system”
  • Structured descriptive data appear only in the form of a plugin:
    • NEXUS-Based multiple entry key, no text, no continuous data (leaf length)
      Platforms: Mac and Windows

Lucid (CBIT, Australia, Queensland)

  • Optimized multiple entry key
  • No text, but some continuous data support (Min, Range, Max)
  • Has limited annotations on character data
  • Taxa are strings
  • Has own format (Lucid Interchange format), Import/Limited export of DELTA data (partial), NEW: SDD support
  • Important: Has Builder and Player, Player is free, Builder costs
  • Moore Foundation has paid 400 licenses for developing countries and workshops
  • Closed Source software
  • Platforms: Java, it can run locally as well as over the web.


  • Optimized multiple entry key
  • No text, no continuous data support, no annotations (?)
  • Taxa are strings
  • Has own format (XPer), concrete PLANS for SDD
  • Online web-based editor!
  • Open Source software
  • Platforms: Java, it can run locally as well as over the web.

Descriptive tools for dichotomous/polytomous keys

  • Not supported by any of above
  • Special tool: Lucid/CBIT Phoenix is good for reengineering existing printed keys
  • From below: CSIRO DELTA (and Pankey)

General purpose descriptive tools

Pankey for DOS (UK)

No longer under ongoing development, not further considered.

CSIRO DELTA (Australia)

  • Support all of categorical, continous (Min, lower Range, Mean/Single, upper Range, Max) and text data
  • Supports generating “natural language” descriptions, has ID-key (“Intkey”).
  • DOS-versions (and thin Windows shell)
  • New Delta matrix (full Windows)
  • Oldest, very capable & well tested, often complicated system (often requires writing batch command files)
  • Has NEXUS export support
  • Closed Source software
  • Platforms: DOS, Windows
  • Many software products are shells for the CSIRO DELTA programs.

DeltaAccess (Germany)

  • Support all of categorical, continous and text data
  • Support 98% of DELTA (import/export)
  • Goes beyond DELTA, which can only partly be exported back to DELTA
  • Has editor but originally analysis software
  • Has fairly reliable own natural language description algorithm
  • Has an Multiple Entry key “demonstration” (primarily intended as search engine analysis!)
  • Web-based identication by export to DELTA, and e.g. Navikey!
  • Does not support reduction of characters to those diagnostic.
    • can be done by export to DELTA-> CSIRO DELTA
  • SDD supports is planned (needs funding!)
  • Open Source software
  • Platform: Windows: MS Access


Mesquite (successor of MacClade)

  • NEXUS based, intended for phylogenetic work
  • Very good if phylogenetics is primary goal.
  • Open Source software
  • Platform: JAVA-based

EFG (Electronic field guide)

  • producing SDD editor, including NEXUS import

Biolink (Australia, Steve Shattuck)

  • Whole suite of components for all kinds of biodiversity software, containing a unique approach to descriptive data (free text with inserted coded data).
  • GH has no hands-on-experience, current status not known – website disappeared.
  • Closed source. Earlier versions were commercial, but no probably still freeware/letterware.
  • Platform: Windows

A good overview (although not always complete and current) can be found at the
Digital Taxonomy Website

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  1. The list above contains several errors and omissions. As said it was intended as a *contribution* to a discussion, not as a comprehensive review. However, since it remains standing, some corrections are made here.

    Several systems are not mentioned. Some of these are plain ommissions (e.g., 3I: http://ctap.inhs.uiuc.edu/dmitriev/index.asp, mx: http://sourceforge.net/projects/mx-database).

    Other systems were not discussed because of the scope of the discussion, which is not completely stated in the summary above. Software under consideration for EDIT had to be a) locally installable and b) usable to creating (as well as running) identification keys.

    Without a) many web or institutionalized systems should be discussed. Examples include FRIDA (http://www.dryades.eu), DiscoverLife IDnature guides (http://www.discoverlife.org/20/q), or eFlora/Actkey (http://www.efloras.org/index.aspx).

    Without b) many identification systems that are based on separately created data files should be mentioned. Examples are: navikey (http://www.navikey.net, using DELTA files), X:ID (http://uio.mbl.edu/services/key.html, based on Lucid LIF files), SLIKS (http://www.stingersplace.com/SLIKS/, using data encoded as Javascript), or SAIKS (http://www.galexander.org/saiks/, an improved variant of SLIKS).

    Further corrections / additions:

    Terminology: The term “Multi-access key” should probably be preferred over “multiple entry key”. New key types (e.g. by FRIDA) indeed implement a multi-entry key, i.e. the free choice is restricted to the first step, followed by a filtered branching key.

    The ETI Linneaeus statement contains several errors: The correct version number is II, not III and although the ETI may help with converting material from Word, most authors use a freely downloadable (once registered) authoring environment for Linneaeus.

    Xper 2 now supports SDD import/export.

    In summary, a more
    BioLink: the development of Biolink has been stopped (pers. comm. S. Shattuck).

    Again, please do comment and help to further improve knowledge on interactive keys!


  2. NatureGate® open access,interactive species identification service is not on the list.

    NatureGate® is a public online service for interactive species recognition. It is based on patented interactive software for object recognition on the web. The online service is provided for free, it is open access. The creator and maintainer of this service is NatureGate® Ltd. in which the University of Helsinki is a partner. Other partners include Producer Eija Lehmuskallio, Nature Photographer Jouko Lehmuskallio, and Professor Mauri Ahlberg.
    The interactive species identification is very fast. The quality of images is excellent. Nature photographer Jouko Lehmuskallio has taken the photos of wild flowers.

    We have the business plan to create sister companies in all regions and countries of the world. One of the languages will be always English. The languages include English, German, Swedish and Finnish. In this academic year French and Spanish will be included.

    We are looking for contacts of university experts who are interested in this kind of effort, in which university biodiversity expertise, local and global business, and the best nature photographers, are integrated for sustainable use of biodiversity.

    Please contact:
    Prof. Mauri Ahlberg, email: mauri.ahlberg@helsinki.fi
    Producer Eija Lehmuskallio, email: eija.lehmuskallio@luontoportti.com

    Best regards

    Mauri Åhlberg (in English: Ahlberg)
    Professor of Biology and Sustainability Education

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