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iSpot BES

Project website/blog 

What research questions the project addresses, aims & themes

The British Ecological Society (BES) will be celebrating its centenary in 2013, and plans a Festival of Ecology from 15 June - 4 August 2013, and wants to include iSpot in those celebrations. There are four iSpot activities, of which three are to involve IET developer resource. (The fourth is a programme of iSpot Mentor activity, managed through Science.) 

People visiting the BES Virtual Festival are very likely to be interested in pursuing their interest in nature through iSpot; similarly, iSpot users are likely to be interested in taking a further step in their learning journey by engaging with other elements of the BES Virtual Festival, and with the BES beyond the festival year.

Now that iSpot has a substantial database of observations, valid names and images, we are in a good position to introduce an ecological dimension to the site. This is a natural progression for iSpot because while to get started in natural history you must be able to put a valid name to an organism, to turn a natural history observation into an ecological one you must be able to draw connections between two or more organisms. iSpot is very effective at helping people make the first step; this project will help them make the second. This is a substantial increase in the potential learning activity available through iSpot. 

How the research questions are addressed by the project (methodology and activity/environment)

We will use the Biological Record Centre's database (PID) of insect/plant associations ( to link all relevant observations any user makes to its ecological associates. So, for example, if I see an orange-tip butterfly and put the observation on iSpot, iSpot will not only show me what the caterpillars look like (which it does already), but will also display images of the food plants. If I make an observation of a plant, I will be shown a gallery of names and images of all the insects associated with it. About a third of the observations submitted to iSpot are of insects and a third are of plants, so the majority of observations submitted to iSpot will utilize the new 'Ecology Function' and this will be seen and used by a very large number of people. 

iSpot currently offers novel identification keys that utilize Bayesian statistics to simplify the identification of several groups of animals and plants. This project will make a lasting contribution to biodiversity education by helping to put these essential tools into the hands of anyone who wishes to develop their own key. This will also reduce ongoing support costs, helping to make the project more sustainable in the long term.
Currently, uploading keys has to be done by the iSpot Team, and there is no online system for providing feedback to authors or for creating new versions that automatically supersede existing ones. To make the most of the opportunities for learning and identification that are offered by our software, we will fully automate the process so that anyone can upload a key, have it tried out by others, receive feedback from them and use this to improve the key and create a better version. This requires managing user contributions so that keys are owned and managed by their authors. A user should be able to limit access to their keys in development to a restricted and known group of users. In addition, we need to integrate features to support collaboration and discussion of contributed keys.

Findings and outputs

The project is in progress 

Project impact

The project will substantially enhance the learning activities available on iSpot, a key project in helping us to understand and support learning in informal contexts and beyond. 


Participatory learning, social networking, informal learning, formal learning, open educational resources, nature, wildlife, ecology, Bayesian keys 

People involved

Doug Clow

Richard Greenwood

Richard Lovelock 

Project partners and links



British Ecological Society 

Start Data and Duration

November 2012 -  June 2013



Research & Innovation