TEST METHOD: Identification of flora and fauna

Revised: 26October 2006 (additional electronic resources added)


Identification skills develop over a long period. The following outlines a 'best practice' approach to identification of plant and animal material that should assist in making the identification process more efficient.


Delta dress code applies.


Identifications of plants and animals may be made using printed materials or software. The new "LucID" software packages that have been developed for both plants and animals allow you to identify specimens that may not contain all the features used in a printed dichotomous key.

Collect any printed reference material that is available and any software that may be in the St Kilda reference collection. You should include reference glossaries if the anatomical terms are likely to be unfamiliar. Some software is accessibleon the internet at ANBG, Flora of Australia online, Species Bank, the Australian Virtual Herbarium and also on the LucID website . The LucID site has free software and purchasable software. New keys are appearing regularly.

The internet also hosts many online databases of images - use the "Favourites" function in Internet Explorer to access the various state Herbariums and, in particular, Florabase.

CDROMS at St Kilda: Euclid, Families of Flowering Plants, AusGrass, Wild Plants of Victoria, Coastal Plants of South Australia, Fungimap, TaxIBD (diatoms), HairID, Australian Aquatic Invertebrates

Software keys on computer at St Kilda: Australian Nematodes, Australian Marine Isopoda, Calanoida, World Crustacea, Polikey

Set up the identification table with the appropriate magnifying equipment for the objects being examined (maggy lamp, stereo dissecting scope, phase contrast microscope).

Ensure any dissecting equipment, special slides or other tools are readied.

Place your specimen where you can clearly see it.

Become familiar with the specimen. Briefly reviewing the characteristics of your specimen before you start will make it easier as you proceed through the identification.

Note any features that you think may be particularly distinctive. Some plants and animals possess unusual or distinctive features. Using these may enable you to recognise the family or other higher taxa, shortening the identification process.

If you are using printed references, start at the lowest taxonomic level you are confident that the organism belongs in, and start to key the organism out by answering each couplet.

With an interactive (electronic) key, choose an appropriate character set. For example, Families of Flowering Plants of Australia divides its characters into sets, such as Distribution, Leaves, Flowers, Fruits etc. You may display all the characters or restrict it to any character set. Choosing an appropriate set prevents the screen being cluttered with characters that you cannot possibly answer. One special character set (the default set) is called Best and Simplest. Choosing this set restricts the characters in Characters Available to only those that are relatively easy to answer, but powerful enough to discriminate many families.

In interactive keys, browse the list of Characters Available and answer any easy characters first. Always skip a character that you’re unsure about.When selecting geographic regions like States, always choose multiple localities if you are uncertain of the correct choice.When you have addressed all the obvious characters, ask the interactive key to suggest the best remaining character. If you end up with no species remaining, review your chosen characters and delete any that you are dubious about. You may not end up with just one result if you skipped a lot of characters, but the field will be narrowed down.

You can check your identification of the species in the fact sheets of the key, against printed references, online herbaria, the small St Kilda collection or the larger State collections in the Museum and Herbarium in Adelaide.

Once you are comfortable the species is correct, record it. If you are unsure, check with another staff member or with staff at one of the two institutions mentioned above.

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