“We guide users through tell-tale morphological characteristics, all the way to identifying species,” explains Dr Inka Bartsch from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). Together with her colleagues, the biologist and algae expert developed SeaKey. “We focus less on biological classification, with its orders, families and genera, since even related species can look very different,” says Bartsch. Classical, dichotomous keys only offer two alternatives for each characteristic, before progressing to the next characteristic. According to Bartsch: “When you find a mistake, trying to go back a step in the classification process is difficult and often discouraging. Moreover, dichotomous keys don’t offer a comparative overview of the characteristics of similar species. That’s why we developed a matrix concept with an innovative approach that offers variable access options. Accordingly, users can start the classification at one of several levels, depending on which characteristics they want to focus on. This allows not only experts from the scientific community and government authorities, but also students and interested non-experts to successfully identify unfamiliar algae.” To promote the app’s use outside Germany and among international students, all information is presented in English.
The key is available as three product variants:
- Digital key at the website seaweeds.awi.de/
- SeaKey app: at the app store
- Printable PDF offering a comprehensive overview for offline use, downloadable at seaweeds.awi.de/
In addition to the identification key itself, there is further information on the methods used, references, a glossary of terminology, and an overview of the brown algae species covered by the app, together with equivalent terms frequently found in German literature on the topic.
The contents of the matrix key were converted into a web-based key. The web key was implemented with the help of Local Cosmos, a browser-based software package for creating scientific apps and websites that can contain identification keys, species profiles, glossaries and other components; and was made available by and further developed with the company SiSol Systems (https://www.sisol-systems.com/).
Inka Bartsch (project lead, text and identification key developer), Tosia Schmithüsen (project coordinator, implementation, text co-developer), Ralph Kuhlenkamp (text and identification key co-developer).
Web app and design: Thomas Uher, Judith Boelke (SiSol Systems)
The project received financial support from the Helmholtz Association’s Earth System Knowledge Platform (ESKP) and the Federal State of Schleswig-Holstein’s Ministry of the Environment (LfU) in Flintbek.