|Figure 1. Screen shot from Iphone app.|
Many students are interested in identifying the organisms they collect and professional taxonomic keys are readily available. Comprehensive family-level keys designed for the mid west can be downloaded for free and work reasonably well for fauna of the north east.
Vermont EPSCoR has made an even easier tool to help with identification. Most streams and ponds host only a small subset of the organisms found in the comprehensive keys. Using comprehensive keys requires long hours of reading detailed descriptions of arcane morphological descriptions to eliminate the large majority of organsism found in the key....but absent in your specific samples. The new tool focuses only on the organisms previously found in specific streams. This means that a high school student collecting macroinvertebrates for the first time can identify them more accurately and in a fraction of the time it would take using traditional keys.
|Figure 2. An organism found in Brewster River.|
Computer Science students at the University of Vermont have taken the tool one step further by developing an Iphone app. The app can be synchronized before field work to load images from the web directly onto an Iphone. The app can then be used at remote fields sites with or without a cellphone signal.
Students can collect an organism from Brewster River in Jeffersonville Vermont for example, pull out their cell phones or Ipads, and compare the catch of the day to a gallery of photographs of organisms found at that site (Figure 1). A quick click on an organism's photograph reveals it's name and identification tips (Figure 2).
The web pages and Iphone app are based on a series of 138 mini web pages called templates that represent 138 different organisms that we have found in our stream and pond study sites. The templates are like Lego bricks that can be used and reused in different stream and pond web sites. At this point the bulk of the work has been done and it takes little time to create a new web page for a freshly sampled stream. We can also rapidly add organisms to existing stream sites. All new information is passed onto Iphones by synchronizing with the web sites.
I hope that this new tool can lower the taxonomic barriers a little bit and make working with macroinvertebrates in aquatic habitats a little easier for a tech-savvy generation.