Scientists create first of its kind guidelines for identifying species through images

A ‘big red prawn’ formally known as Cerataspis monstrosus – but can you be sure just from a photograph?

Scientists have created a set of unique guidelines for image-based species identification to improve biodiversity data collection. Led by Dr Tammy Horton at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), the new guide provides rules for the use of open nomenclature signs in image-based biodiversity studies.

The guidelines have been developed as a way of indicating the level of certainty in the identification of species. The guide is the first of its kind to bring together the fields of scientific nomenclature and image-based analyses to improve biodiversity data collection.

As scientists move away from monitoring the biodiversity of oceans using traditional sample-based methods to increasingly using remotely operated technology, vast numbers of images and videos require analyses and identification. This is managed by naming the taxa seen in those images and often providing them with ‘temporary’ names using open nomenclature. The new guide allows for identifications to be more easily understood and shared through a standardised process, making them more useful to other researchers, environmental managers and policy makers.

Drawing on expertise and experience from NOC, University of Southampton, the Charles Darwin Research Station (Ecuador), National Geographic Society (USA), Flanders Marine Institute (Belgium) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (Belgium), the guide offers a simple flow chart to help determine the term to use at each level of identification. It also gives examples of recommended use for these terms for input to online databases and in the preparation of catalogues of the fauna of an area.

Lead author, Dr Tammy Horton, said: “Image-based biodiversity work is increasingly common but will always have limitations to the level of certainty in species identification. This is particularly critical in deep-sea studies where most of the animals are poorly known and we often encounter new species that have not been described before. Developing these clear rules for the use of open nomenclature will improve the clarity, precision and comparability of biodiversity data.”

The full article is available at:

Recommendations for the standardisation of open taxonomic nomenclature for image-based identifications.

Tammy Horton, Leigh Marsh, Brian James Bett, Andrew Russell Gates, Daniel O B Jones, Noëlie M.A. Benoist, Simone Pfeifer, Erik Simon-Lledó, Jennifer Durden, Leen Vandepitte, Ward Appeltans.

Frontiers in Marine Science, Deep-Sea Environments and Ecology. 08 February 2021