Species misidentification in ecological studies : incidence and importance from the ecologists’ point of view

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http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:hulib-202106303271
Title: Species misidentification in ecological studies : incidence and importance from the ecologists’ point of view
Author: Wang, Shengyu
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2021
Language: eng
URI: http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:hulib-202106303271
http://hdl.handle.net/10138/332004
Thesis level: master's thesis
Degree program: Ekologian ja evoluutiobiologian maisteriohjelma
Master's Programme in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Magisterprogrammet i ekologi och evolutionsbiologi
Specialisation: ei opintosuuntaa
no specialization
ingen studieinriktning
Abstract: Natural scientists study a wide variety of species, but whether they have identified all studied samples correctly to species is rarely evaluated. Species misidentification in empirical research can cause significant losses of money, information, and time, and contribute to false results. Thus, I study the abundance of species misidentification and ecologists’ perceptions of such mistakes through a web survey targeting researchers from scientific institutes around the globe (including universities, research societies and museums) who completed their doctoral degree in any ecology-related field of science. I received 117 responses with either work or educational background from 30 countries. I found that species misidentification widely existed in respondents’ research: almost 70% of the respondents noticed species misidentification in their own research, while the estimated proportion of existing studies with species misidentification was 34% (95% CI: 28% - 40%). Although misidentification was mainly found during specimen collection, specimen handling and data analysis, misidentifications in reporting stages (writing, revision and after publishing) could persist until publication. Moreover, according to respondents, reviewers seldom comment about species identification methods or their accuracy, which may affect respondents’ (both leading and not leading a research team) low reporting frequency about the possibility of misidentification. Expert checking, training students, and DNA barcoding are the most prevalent approaches to ensure identification accuracy among respondents. My results imply that species misidentification might be widespread in existing ecological research. Although the problem of species misidentification is widely recognized, such an issue seldom be appropriately handled by respondents. To increase the accuracy of species identification and maintain academic integrity, I suggest that researchers need to focus more on the study species (e.g., sampling process, identification method, and accuracy) when writing and reviewing papers. Furthermore, I appeal for guidelines about reporting species identification methods and their accuracy in papers, as well as research on education about identification skills in universities, as these two topics may constrain the precision of species identification.
Subject: ecology
identification errors
life science
methodology
questionnaire survey
science studies
species misclassification


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