Since matrix key software was only developed in the late 1980s and 90s, very few matrix keys had been developed by1995, when Lucid matrix software was first released. Paper-based dichotomous or pathway keys, published in floras and other taxonomic publications, were the only tools available for identifying plant and animal species at that time.
Since thousands of dichotomous keys had been published since the 18th Century, some have since been digitised and published online by creating links from couplet to couplet, allowing users to follow a path to an identification. In practice, this works well for small dichotomous keys but can be a tedious process for larger keys. Addressing this problem in 2004, the Lucid team developed and released Lucid Phoenix Builder and Player software for creating and converting paper-based, dichotomous keys to online pathway keys.
More recently, in August 2021, taking advantage of the current features in the latest Lucid matrix platform, Phoenix type functionality has now been included as a facility in the Lucid v4 Builder update. As well as being able to develop Lucid matrix keys, Lucid v4 users can now build digital pathway keys from scratch or, perhaps more usefully, have the means of converting existing, printed pathway keys to interactive, user-friendly keys.
So how does this work?
Converting a published (hard copy) pathway key to a Lucid pathway key involves a three-step process:
- If the existing key to be converted is a published, printed key, it first needs to be scanned, using an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) program, and then saved as a text file.
- When this text file is imported to the Pathway key builder, an innovative import facility automatically checks the internal logic of the key, and any inconsistencies are reported. The Pathway Builder will only complete the conversion once the errors identified have been resolved.
- The screen shot below shows an example of the Lucid Builder pathway key import dialog for a key to Orders of rice arthropods. It indicates there is still one error, a missing lead, that exists within the key.
Once these identified errors are fixed, the logically consistent key is automatically deployed in the Builder. By saving this key and opening it up in the Lucid Player, the performance of the digital pathway key can be assessed before being digitally published. Apart from the speed with which paper-based pathway keys can be converted to digital pathway keys, there are many other advantages. For instance, images of features and entities can be added, “unanswerable” couplets to be skipped, and filters can be applied to automatically rebuild subsets of taxa, based on geographical region.
You can try out examples of online selected Lucid pathway keys by going to a series of keys for identifying insects and spiders found in West African rice fields.