Systematics and Evolution (HA)
Computer identification tools for Australian eucalypts
In the early 1990s the need for a new method of identifying or keying-out eucalypts to species level was obvious to any botany student who tried to use the dichotomous keys found in field guides such as those of Brooker & Kleinig, or in flora accounts like Chippendale’s 1988 “Flora of Australia Volume 19, Eucalyptus and Angophora”
In 1991 software was already available that enabled the use of random character selection as a method to filter out species that did not match. Computers were also rapidly changing at this time with great increases in both memory, and hard disk space. This meant the use of large numbers of images and large quantities of text were possible – features of the plants could be illustrated quite cheaply, variation could be described, full descriptions could be presented for all eucalypt species – descriptions from the cotyledons to the crown leaves, including characters like internal bud features, detailed descriptions of gumnuts and seed, early seedling leaf arrangement, what field-grown ground-level coppice looks like, adult leaf features including major and minor leaf vein patterns etc.
Initially we built a trial key to 70 species, using this to refine a selection of characters that would be best suited to building a key to all species right across the country. We chose 120 characters, a selection that changed very little during the entire project.
Eventually we settled on the (then) newly available software LUCID which then came in two parts, the LUCID Builder for key construction, and the LUCID Player, for identification.
For any species in the key each of these 120 characters had to be scored from specimens and the data added to the LUCID Builder. We scored character states from the 65,000 eucalypt herbarium specimens at the Australian National Herbarium, some from other herbaria also, and from fresh material in the field. Seedlings were grown for most species, and always from well vouchered seed. The key was easy to build once the data was entered. The software was easy to use.
The first edition of “EUCLID Eucalypts of South-eastern Australia” was published in 1997 on CD, reprinted in 1998, and re-issued as a revised edition in 2000. The production of this revised edition illustrated three points about electronic identification packages. Firstly they are easy to revise – you can add or remove species, alter text, add or replace images quite simply. Secondly you can adapt to changes in currently available computer operating systems. Thirdly, interactive keys are popular. So the project continued on.
“EUCLID Eucalypts of Southern Australia” was published in October 2002 on 2 CDs and covered 690 species and subspecies in the genera Eucalyptus and Angophora. This covered temperate Australia, and work started to include the subtropical and tropical species.
“EUCLID Eucalypts of Australia” covering 894 species and subspecies in the genera Eucalyptus, Corymbia and Angophora was published in October 2006, on DVD, with the option of loading the entire package onto the hard disk (if you have 2.2 Gb available) or running it from the DVD.
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Full history of the Euclid project.
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