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HomeHomeFAQsFAQsGeneral FAQsGeneral FAQsWhat is a Key?What is a Key?
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3/19/2008 4:25 PM
 

A key is a tool that, figuratively speaking, unlocks the door to identification of an unknown object or organism. Keys can be built to identify any group of things: the pieces of apparatus in a laboratory, the parts of a car, the species of termites in Africa, the types of stars in our galaxy. Typically, an expert in the relevant field puts together the information and builds the key. Keys are useful in any biological field where large numbers of taxa are difficult to distinguish just by using the naked eye and memory.

The builder of a key must choose characters that best distinguish between taxa to be included. Each character has a number of character states e.g. pink, yellow, blue - for the character "colour of petals". Clearly defining the character states is crucial to the efficient working of a key. Subjective decision making on the part of the user should be avoided e.g. character states "dark pink" and "red" could be interpreted differently by different users.

 
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