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DAISY vision for systematics

22 August 2005

The Natural History Museum launches its vision for the future of systematics with DAISY a Digital Automated Identification System.

Oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) being visited by a hover bee © Natural History Museum, 2005

Oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) being visited by a hover bee © Natural History Museum, 2005

Systematics is the science of classifying species and identifying the evolutionary relationships between them and is at the basis of many other important topics such as understanding species diversity and extinctions.

Until now, to have a specimen accurately identified, it would need to be physically taken to an expert, which could mean travelling to the other side of the world. With DAISY, a user could simply photograph a specimen with a mobile phone camera, and the identification could be made in seconds by computer.

DAISY uses artificial intelligence and computer vision technologies to produce virtual collections of authoritatively identified specimens. By sampling electronic images, digitised sounds or digital representations of DNA sequences, DAISY will be able to identify one species from another including fossilised specimens.

With seventy million specimens, the Natural History Museum has one of the world's best natural history collections and many people bring their specimens into the Museum each year to be identified. Professor Norman MacLeod, Keeper of Palaeontology at the Museum, says, 'Only a handful of experts are currently able to identify species in any given group of organisms accurately, and even these experts disagree with each other over aspects of these identifications and can make mistakes'.

'This technology will not replace basic human expertise, but it will give access to that expertise to people in remote locations, where the identifications are often needed most.'

Prof. MacLeod adds 'if we can identify species more quickly and accurately then we can use this information to focus more on addressing the larger issues of evolution and biodiversity'.

A conference organised by the Natural History Museum and the Systematics Association was held at the Natural History Museum on Friday 19 August 2005. This was the first time scientists involved with research into this area of technology came together to share ideas and compare progress. The Museum hopes this will be the beginning of a co-ordinated research programme that will benefit people worldwide.