Making the world of taxonomy less taxing

Taxonomy is far from an old and static science; it is a dynamic, evolving field of study, with new species continually being discovered and the relationships between species being revaluated, causing classifications to change regularly. The standards for marine sample analysis are always high, with little margin for error when it comes to extraction of specimens from the samples and assigning each a species name. Our laboratory processes continually evolve, as does the framework of marine taxonomy.

With our busy marine laboratory staff identifying tens of thousands of specimens each year, we needed a solution that would keep pace with us. However, working in such a niche field means that off the shelf laboratory management software that meets our exacting standards does not exist. Our answer was to develop an innovative, flexible software application, tailored to our unique needs, that could keep pace with the ebb and flow of taxonomic opinion.

Our laboratory supervisor, Jo Gordon, worked with software developers to create something special, with taxonomy at its heart. The software incorporates the taxonomic hierarchy, allowing us to keep up to date with changes in taxonomic classification while also giving us the flexibility to continue to develop our processes. This is all packaged in an intuitive interface that allows the team to reliably document sample processing and analysis results more efficiently than ever before.

Streamlined to our own sample analysis process, all data are captured directly into the system, which also produces all specimen labels and customer outputs, meaning we have simplified the process whilst also reducing input errors. Alongside developing the new software, we updated the analysts’ workstations in the lab, so the program is fully integrated with their workflow.

The backbone of our application is the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) taxon list, for which we are grateful to the WoRMS Editorial Board. This means we can search for and identify around 300,000 species, ensuring standardised and up to date names are always used in the datasets we produce. This list includes species from the marine environment worldwide, which is essential for us as we go from working on samples from Newquay one day to samples from Nicaragua the next. Being able to do so easily allows us to offer a fast, competitively priced service also for overseas sample analysis, for which we have been seeing an increasing demand over recent years.

And this is just the beginning. The potential for further development is already starting to excite us and we are set to remain at the forefront of benthic sample analysis.

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