News FocusBiodiversity

Pushing DAISY

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Science  25 Jun 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5986, pp. 1628-1629
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5986.1628

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Although Mark O'Neill isn't a formally trained entomologist, his fascination with insects has brought him to develop an image-based insect-identification computer program, the Digital Automated Identification System (DAISY), in his spare time. The program compares digital photographs of insects' morphological features with a database of shapes and markings gathered from taxonomic records, in much the same way detectives use computer databases to match crime-scene fingerprints or a suspect's face from security cameras. The idea is simple, but once DAISY is fully loaded with enough insect records, it should save taxonomists hours of painstaking research. In doing so, DAISY may help combat the problems associated with a growing shortage of trained taxonomists. It also promises to bring greater rigor to biodiversity studies, experts say, as traditional taxonomy methods rely on written descriptions in field notes to distinguish between species, using words that are sometimes not expressive enough for the task.