Joint research project to improve butterfly identification system

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. That environmental scientists are working to find better ways to identify butterfly species in the wild is perfectly reasonable. That library scientists are collaborating in such natural-world endeavors seems highly unlikely. However, one such collaborative project is well under way at the University of Illinois.

For one part of his two-year research program funded by the National Science Foundation, P. Bryan Heidorn, a UI professor of library and information science, has set up an innovative project that, with the help of doctoral students from both fields and some specialized new software will greatly improve the standard system of identifying the fancy fluttering flies.

Heidorns idea was to create computer software that used graphics and "similarity measures" to help citizen volunteers and experts with species identification. Identification of lepidopterans is notoriously difficult because they are so mobile and because capturing them in the wild for later identification violates good conservation. Volunteers have had to quickly determine and remember many traits about size, color, wing patterning, flight and feeding habits. Bringing computer principles to the task should not only make identification easier, but also improve accuracy, Heidorn said.

What happens, more specifically in Heidorns program, called BIBE, or Biological Information Browsing Environments, is that "interactive-key software converts butterfly information into a format that is accessible on the World Wide Web. Volunteers input the information they obtain in any order and then through the process of elimination, identify the correct butterfly species," he said, noting that diagnostic traits and photographs appear online for verification.

Mary Lokhaiser, a doctoral student in the UI department of natural resources and environmental sciences, built the interactive butterfly identification key. Using a standard field guide to butterflies in Illinois,

Contact: Andrea Lynn
217-333 -2177
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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