Biosystematics and Identification

Why identify?

Accurate identification provides the key for access to and transfer of information about important organisms, and is the essential first step in the acquisition and organization of knowledge. Precise identification is essential for the successful implementation of biological control programmes and the establishment of effective quarantine measures for an ever- increasing pool of pest and beneficial species on the move throughout the world.

Identification keys

Identification keys are important tools used by biologists to separate an organism from a group of similar ones and provide a name (i.e. to identify). They are usually printed on paper, sometimes with illustrations, and provide pairs of descriptions. The user selects one of the pair that best matches their specimen and this points to the next pair of descriptions. The process continues until one of the choices provides a name.

For non-experts traditional keys are often difficult to use because a scientific language is used and illustrations are often lacking or placed elsewhere. Computers can sort through large tables of data quickly, and display pictures and text together. Computers cannot replace a taxonomic expert, but they can assist the non-expert greatly in the use of keys.


Computer Aided Biological Identification Key

CABIKEY is an innovative program which enables you to make accurate identifications of insects or other arthropods in your own laboratory, office or field station.

CABIKEY prompts the user to answer a series of questions about the specimen needing identification, using drawings, images and other graphics for illustration. Then, through a process of elimination, CABIKEY interprets the user’s answers to reach an identification of the specimen.

The CABIKEY software uses a database table to store information on the group of organisms for each application. As such it is a Multiple Entry Key, which means that the user has some choice over questions to answer, avoiding ones which are impossible because the specimen is damaged, or ones where they are uncertain of the answer.

Pictures and relevant textual information are provided for verification. This sophisticated software can also perform comparisons of the identification to its own minimal diagnosis, similar taxa, and to taxa with similar identification sequences. These steps help to ensure that the identification is correct.

CABIKEY provides a cost-effective and time-saving alternative to printed identification keys which have been used by entomologists for many years. CABIKEY also enables users to make their own identifications without the need to send possibly delicate specimens to identification laboratories elsewhere in the world.

Sample diskettes containing subsets of data to illustrate how the CABIKEY software operates are available on request. All of these demo disks use the DOS version of the software. Demo disks currently available are: Fruit flies, Common Thysanoptera of Europe, Mosquito genera of the World.


Taxonomic Identification Key

TAXAKEY is a less sophisticated key program than CABIKEY but provides a similar interface whereby choices are made on screen from text and illustrations describing the character states of the organism being identified. TAXAKEY resembles more closely the printed paper key because only one route through the key is possible to each identification point, sets of choices cannot be avoided or skipped when the user is uncertain, but TAXAKEY is a better approach for identification under some conditions. Additional information about the identified organisms and the group as a whole is included and easily reached from the identification point, or by searching.

Identification Service

CAB Bioscience offers worldwide identification services for organisms of importance to man and the environment.  Based on two nearby sites, CABI Bioscience provides authoritative identifications and information on over 5,000 biological samples annually from more than 60 countries around the world. Identification services are provided to all users on a charge basis, with reduced charges available to clients from member countries of CABI. Waiver of and reductions in charges are available in some situations and are at the discretion of the Bioscience Centre Director. Express identification of small numbers of samples can be provided in emergency situations (e.g. quarantine interceptions), usually with same day telephoned or faxed reports. Additional information regarding taxonomic groups covered, collection acceptance criteria, charges, waivers and reductions, and identifications for funded project work is available from the relevant CABI site (see following information and addresses).
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Insects and Mites

CABI Bioscience provides a worldwide identification service for insects and other arthropods of importance to agriculture, horticulture, forestry and the environment. The taxonomists are widely experienced in tropical, subtropical and temperate entomology and work closely with specialists at the Natural History Museum, London and other research institutions around the world to provide the comprehensive coverage necessary to service today's identification needs.

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Fungi and Bacteria

The site at Egham provides a worldwide service for the identification of fungi, with an emphasis on microfungi, some groups of macrofungi, and plant pathogenic bacteria. The provision of a rapid identification service is the primary aim of our team of specialists. Specimens are received from mycologists, plant pathologists, microbiologists, workers in industry, and research workers; the emphasis is on plant pathogens and other groups of economic importance. The service is backed by a reference collection of many hundreds of thousands of preserved specimens and live cultures. For frequent users, we offer an `Identification Plus' scheme and for urgent submissions, a `Fast-track' same-day report service is available.

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Nematodes and Helminths

CABI Bioscience provides an authoritative and rapid identification service for plant and insect parasitic nematodes and helminths (nematodes, cestodes, digeneans, monogeneans, acanthocephalans) of human and veterinary importance. The service is utilized by agricultural, biological, veterinary and medical scientists throughout the world and is backed by extensive reference collections comprising over 100,000 accessions of preserved specimens and live cultures. The biosystematists have extensive experience of temperate, tropical and subtropical nematology and helminthology and collaborate closely with numerous organizations both in the UK and abroad. Molecular taxonomic techniques are increasingly applied to augment the identification process.

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Leaflets providing further details of CABI's Biosystematics Services are available on request from:

Identification Service, CABI Bioscience

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