The impact of Information Technology on the identification of species and archiviation of taxonomic and floristic data.

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In plant taxonomy, classification aims at reconstructing an evolutionary history, usually represented by means of phylogenetic trees. The approach followed by the classification is hierarchical, and rather in coherence with the dichotomies traditionally used for identifying a certain species. But classification and identification are different, since the latter just aims at finding the name of a specimen, eventually in order to get information on it.There are many ways to identify a specimen: to trace it back to its origin, by following the bifurcations of its phylogenetic tree is one possibility, but not always the easiest and quickest one. This theme has been touched during the symposium on “collection data, georeferenced information and interactive identification tools”, held in Beograd at the 11th OPTIMA meeting, but, since then, some new tools and significant advances became available in the field of information technology (IT) applied to the identification of species and archiviation of taxonomic and floristic data. The many possibilities offered by the IT for innovating the planning out of a traditional flora are the following:1)The bulk of knowledge on a certain species can be atomized and organized into non-hierarchical categories, by means of fields and variables implemented in a data-base. The combination of different queries lets to the identification of a species through many possible ways, depending on the user’s choices and not on the current phylogenetic hypotheses. Starting from this basis, many interactive identification tools have been developed, like DELTA-Intkey, IdentifyIt, ETI, LucID, MEKA, NaviKey, PollyClave, XID. On the other hand, the application of citochemical and molecular analyses makes modern taxonomy less and less based on morphologic criteria, therefore the classical dicotomic keys will become more and more unfriendly to the user, at least for the higher taxonomical ranks. See, for example, the morphologic heterogeneity of the families Plantaginacee and Caprifoliacee in the APG classification.2)In the traditional floras, the Linnean name is the only mean to designate unequivocally a certain species. But the Linnean nomenclature is based on a phylogenetic classification, that is subject to frequent changes in consequence of the recent advances in phylogenetic research. In the interactive classifications tools, the Linnean name is just one of the variables that are used to define an object and it can be easily updated without changing the structure of the identification tool. With reference to the Italian flora, the numerical codes proposed by Pignatti in 1978 are an example of remarkable far-sightedness, but they have reached a real utility after the diffusion of personal computers and scientific data-bases.3)Due to high editorial costs, traditional floras are conceived to keep on the market for at least a decade, before being replaced by a new edition. A digital flora can be updated in real time, at reduced editorial costs, the updates can be regularly available on-line. This is an optimal condition for an open-ended work, like floras are per definition.4)The text of a traditional flora, like Flora Europea, is similar to the score of a symphony, that cannot satisfy a reader who doesn’t know the notes and the harmony rules. A significant advance towards the satisfaction of a non-expert readership has been made by supplying the text with images and glossary, but all traditional floras are bound by the limited space of printed pages. Information technology provides unlimited space for high resolution ima
Lingua originaleEnglish
Numero di pagine1
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2007


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