Taxonomy: include social networking | MYCO-LICH

Taxonomy: include social networking

Jonathan Silvertown
The Open University, UK

Help with the shortage of professional taxonomists needed to identify organisms (Nature 467,154–155; 2010) may also come from an unexpected source — social networking on the Internet.

Through social networking, the identification process can be made more efficient while simultaneously spreading real taxonomic knowledge. The facility is available to anyone, unlike other technologies that require specialized equipment.

In its first year of operation, the website iSpot ( has helped 6,000 users to identify 25,000 sightings of some 2,500 species, from lichens to birds. The website works by linking experts (including amateur experts) with beginners through a sophisticated reputation system that encourages users to help and learn from each other.

Eventually, DNA bar-code matching and image recognition might be added to the tools available. But these will be aids, not replacements, for people learning how to identify species.