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1.  Principles of visual key construction―with a visual identification key to the Fagaceae of the southeastern United States 
AoB Plants  2011;2011:plr005.
We present the first visual, as opposed to illustrated, keys to a group of taxa. The creation of four visual keys to the Fagaceae of the southeastern United States are described, one for each of the following characteristics: leaves, buds, fruits, bark.
Background and aims
Advances in digital imaging have made possible the creation of completely visual keys. By a visual key we mean a key based primarily on images, and that contains a minimal amount of text. Characters in visual keys are visually, not verbally defined. In this paper we create the first primarily visual key to a group of taxa, in this case the Fagaceae of the southeastern USA. We also modify our recently published set of best practices for image use in illustrated keys to make them applicable to visual keys.
Photographs of the Fagaceae were obtained from internet and herbarium databases or were taken specifically for this project. The images were printed and then sorted into hierarchical groups. These hierarchical groups of images were used to create the ‘couplets’ in the key. A reciprocal process of key creation and testing was used to produce the final keys.
Principal results
Four keys were created, one for each of the parts—leaves, buds, fruits and bark. Species description pages consisting of multiple images were also created for each of the species in the key. Creation and testing of the key resulted in a modified list of best practices for image use visual keys.
The inclusion of images into paper and electronic keys has greatly increased their ease of use. However, virtually all of these keys are still based upon verbally defined, atomistic characters. The creation of primarily visual keys allows us to overcome the well-known limitations of linguistic-based characters and create keys that are much easier to use, especially for botanical novices.
PMCID: PMC3072766  PMID: 22476476
2.  Image use in field guides and identification keys: review and recommendations 
AoB Plants  2011;2011:plr004.
We review image use in field guides and keys, and formulate a set of best practices for image use. The review covers the full range of guides, from those that consist only of species descriptions, to lavishly illustrated technical guides.
Background and aims
Although illustrations have played an important role in identification keys and guides since the 18th century, their use has varied widely. Some keys lack all illustrations, while others are heavily illustrated. Even within illustrated guides, the way in which images are used varies considerably. Here, we review image use in paper and electronic guides, and establish a set of best practices for image use in illustrated keys and guides.
Our review covers image use in both paper and electronic guides, though we only briefly cover apps for mobile devices. With this one exception, we cover the full range of guides, from those that consist only of species descriptions with no keys, to lavishly illustrated technical keys. Emphasis is placed on how images are used, not on the operation of the guides and key, which has been reviewed by others. We only deal with operation when it impacts image use.
Main points
Few illustrated keys or guides use images in optimal ways. Most include too few images to show taxonomic variation or variation in characters and character states. The use of multiple images allows easier taxon identification and facilitates the understanding of characters. Most images are usually not standardized, making comparison between images difficult. Although some electronic guides allow images to be enlarged, many do not.
The best keys and guides use standardized images, displayed at sizes that are easy to see and arranged in a standardized manner so that similar images can be compared across species. Illustrated keys and glossaries should contain multiple images for each character state so that the user can judge variation in the state. Photographic backgrounds should not distract from the subject and, where possible, should be of a standard colour. When used, drawings should be prepared by professional botanical illustrators, and clearly labelled. Electronic keys and guides should allow images to be enlarged so that their details can be seen.
PMCID: PMC3077818  PMID: 22476475

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