With our guest blogs we aim to provide a platform for ideas and opinions from many people with an interest in learning, teaching and applying biological identification and survey skills. Please feel free to add your comments to any of the blogs posted on the Tomorrow's Biodiversity site, guest or otherwise. The views expressed in these posts are not necessarily those of the FSC, but we welcome all viewpoints. If you would like to contribute a guest blog, please contact Rich Burkmar: firstname.lastname@example.org
This Guest Blog post has been provided by Martin Godfrey - an active contributor and Bryophytes course tutor on the Biodiversity Fellowship programme in 2013.
Most of what we taught during Biofell was field-based using up to date field guides and was really targeted at getting people doing recording with their chosen taxonomic group or groups. Generally speaking the modern “match a picture” guides work fine for specimens which are well grown and typical however they can be positively misleading with poor or atypical specimens.
As an example a student recently sent me some samples of Sphagnum moss for checking. In two of them her ID was badly adrift as she had been lead astray by a too-facile use of field guide keys. In the first specimen she had based her ID on one character which would normally be pretty diagnostic for the species – however the plant actually looked nothing like what she thought it was. The problem here was that her specimen had a very atypical growth form exhibiting something not normally seen in that species. The second specimen was a very shabby little thing and she had gone for a “best fit” using only field characters.
The moral of the story is to use all available field characters in your ID and if it still doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t. In this case you will need to resort to more technical keys to sort out your species or, as in the case of this student, ask for help. The best skill you can develop is the curiosity to push your ID confirmation that bit further – that is the skill which finds new county, or national, records.