The effectiveness and limitations of digital images for taxonomic research

Aireen Suet Lin Phang* (Corresponding Author), Hannah Atkins, Peter Wilkie

*Corresponding author for this work

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In response to the worldwide coronavirus outbreak, which effectively shut down fieldwork, laboratory and herbarium-based studies, an evaluation was made of the effectiveness and limitations of undertaking a virtual taxonomic study using only online herbarium specimen resources related to the genus Madhuca (Sapotaceae) for the Flora of Singapore. The study demonstrated the immense value of digital images to basic taxonomic research but also found that diagnostic micro-morphological characters, often critical in defining species boundaries, cannot be seen in many digital images, even at high resolution. Several recommendations are made on how to maximise the utility of online herbarium specimen images to help facilitate future taxonomic research, though it is clear that physical access to herbarium specimens remains essential.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1063-1076
Number of pages14
Issue number5
Early online date4 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

This paper is partly based on the dissertation by AP for her M.Sc. in Biodiversity and Plant Taxonomy at the University of Edinburgh and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, supervised by PW and HA. The assistance of staff at the SBG Herbarium and RBGE Sapotaceae Resource Centre is gratefully acknowledged. All herbaria mentioned in the paper are thanked for allowing access to their collections and for allowing researchers to take photographs. The Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) is particularly thanked for supporting the last author during his time visiting Malaysian herbaria and forests under EPU permit number: 40/20019/2522. The authors would also like to thank Professor Pete Hollingsworth for helpful views on early drafts of the paper.

Data Availability Statement

Supporting Information may be found online in the Supporting Information section at the end of the article.


  • Madhuca
  • Sapotaceae
  • digitisation
  • flora account
  • herbarium specimens
  • morphology


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