UniServe€Science News: Newsletter of the Science Software Clearinghouse Vol. 3, March 1996

ETI's Taxonomic Linnaeus II Software

A New Tool for Interactive Education

Peter H. Schalk & Rob P. Heijman


Protecting the world's biodiversity depends on reliable identification of species and readily accessible documentation. High quality taxonomic and biogeographic data are imperative to study biodiversity and to monitor changes in our biological environment. The number of experienced taxonomists is decreasing rapidly, however, and the number of students in taxonomy and systematics has reached an unprecedented low level. On the other hand the demand for validated taxonomic and biogeographic data is in-creasing. Estimates of the earth's biologi-cal richness vary from 20 to 40 million species or more, while only about 1.4 million species have been described. New specialists are needed to deal with the inventory of the biodiversity and training and recruitment programs should be high on the priority list of the universities.

At present access to species information and identification keys is limited by the fact that literature is scattered over a vast amount of sources. Scientists in developing countries in particular are restricted in their jobs. Electronic information systems can complement the traditional libraries and provide an answer to ensure world-wide accessibility of data and allow easy updating and cheap distribution of data.

The Expert-center for Taxonomic Identification (ETI) at the University of Amsterdam developed a user-friendly standard computer tool (Linnaeus II) that combines the functionality of an interactive multimedia database, computer guided identification, and a geographic information system. It provides a standard for electronic publishing of species monographs. International networks of ETI-Partners use Linnaeus II software to create up-to-date taxonomic monographs or regional biodiversity information systems which are released on CD-ROM. These CDs form the backbone of a modern digital library: the World Biodiversity database CD-ROM Series.

Linnaeus II Software

The Linnaeus II interactive software was developed by ETI to facilitate biodi-versity documentation and species identi-fication. This fully multimedia software package is used world-wide by scientists to build -- on their own personal com-puters -- species information and identification systems that can be easily up-dated and published. The software pack-age is continuously updated and expanded with new modules and more functionality in response to continuous feedback from its users. The modern modular set-up of this ETI software shell warrants easy maintenance and a maximum of flexibility. It runs on Windows and Macintosh computers and produces compatible files that can be easily exchanged and combined.

Linnaeus II now consists of the following hyper-linked modules.

- A multimedia databases where species (and higher taxa) information is stored. The database can hold text, pic-tures, sounds and videos, to give the user maximum freedom in tools to describe the taxa. Apart from a free text search and an entry via a taxa list the information can be accessed through a number of tools. For identification three different tools have been devised: an interactive illustrated dichotomous key, a multiple entry key for fast identification of for instance incomplete species, and an interactive pictorial key. The latter two allow also non-experts to identify specimens.

- A geographic information system allow the user to store biogeographic (distribution) data, which are of importance for determining the biodiversity of an area. The interactivity of this geographic system allow for a geographic search through the databases. A geological key is presently under development; this will allow storage and historical searches on fossil species.

All modules of the software are hyper-linked to an illustrated glossary of terms so that technical terminology can be explained on-line without hampering the progress of the identification or preventing laymen to use the system. An easy to use hyper-linked reference database completed the system with all literature references for further study by the user.

Educational use

Apart from its application in taxonomy and biodiversity documentation studies by specialists, Linnaeus II is now increasingly being used for educational purposes. It allows students to experiment with the computer with making taxonomies, species descriptions, interactive distribution maps, and various kinds of identification keys. Students can experiment with a modern interactive computer tool to structure biological information and handle complex data sets and at the same time get the feeling for a new way of `publishing' electronically.

In 1995 several teachers in The Netherlands and in the UK, experimented with Linnaeus II in education for tertiary students and were thrilled about the possibilities of this tool. It makes teaching taxonomy and systematics more practical and applied than before. Giving students experience with the `think work' and practicalities behind making various identification keys was considered very useful. Comparing the results and different solutions of the students experiments offers good ground for discussions.

The various ETI CD-ROMs offer extensive data sets from which materials for experimental work can be drawn. The CD-ROM systems are equipped with export functions so that selected part of the data they contain can be taken off and used for making, for example, an information system and keys to completely different taxonomic groups.

Peter H. Schalk & Rob P. Heijman

Peter H. Schalk & Rob P. Heijman
ETI (Expert-center for Taxonomic Identification) University of Amsterdam
Mauritskade 61, NL-1092 AD Amsterdam, The Netherlands

ETI-Partners who work together with ETI on documenting the earth's biological richness receive Linnaeus II free of costs as they deliver species data to ETI's World Biodiversity Database. For all other users the Linnaeus II package is available for US$949. Educational institutions may buy the package with an educational discount of 40%.

CD-ROMs in the World Biodiversity Database series include: North Australian Sea Cucumbers (1994), Turbellarian Families and Genera (1995), Birds of Europe (1994), Sea Mammals of the World (1995), Lobsters of the World (1995), Fishes of the North-Eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean (1994), Five Kingdoms: Life on Earth (1995), Protoctist Glossary (1995), Marine Planarians of the World (1994), Pelagic Molluscs of the World (1995), Linnaeus Protist (1995).

Requirements: Windows or Macintosh platforms

Distributor: In Australia ETI products are distributed by DA Electronic Media, 648 Whitehorse Road, Mitcham Vic 3132,
Tel: (03) 9 873 4411.