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Volume 37, issue 2 | Copyright
J. Micropalaeontol., 37, 431-443, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 25 Sep 2018

Research article | 25 Sep 2018

Factors affecting consistency and accuracy in identifying modern macroperforate planktonic foraminifera

Isabel S. Fenton1, Ulrike Baranowski2, Flavia Boscolo-Galazzo3, Hannah Cheales1,4, Lyndsey Fox5, David J. King5,6, Christina Larkin7, Marcin Latas1,6, Diederik Liebrand8, C. Giles Miller5, Katrina Nilsson-Kerr9, Emanuela Piga3,5, Hazel Pugh1,10, Serginio Remmelzwaal11, Zoe A. Roseby12, Yvonne M. Smith13, Stephen Stukins5, Ben Taylor14, Adam Woodhouse13, Savannah Worne15, Paul N. Pearson3, Christopher R. Poole6, Bridget S. Wade6, and Andy Purvis1,10 Isabel S. Fenton et al.
  • 1Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum, London, SW7 5BD, UK
  • 2School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK
  • 3School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, CF10 3AT, UK
  • 4Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, London, WC1E 6BT, UK
  • 5Department of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum, London, SW7 5BD, UK
  • 6Department of Earth Sciences, University College London, London, WC1E 6BT, UK
  • 7Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB2 3EQ, UK
  • 8MARUM – Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, University of Bremen, Bremen, 28359, Germany
  • 9School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK
  • 10Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot, SL5 7PY, UK
  • 11School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 1RJ, UK
  • 12National Oceanography Centre Southampton, University of Southampton, Southampton, SO17 1BJ, UK
  • 13School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK
  • 14School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, KY16 9AL, UK
  • 15School of Geography, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK

Abstract. Planktonic foraminifera are widely used in biostratigraphic, palaeoceanographic and evolutionary studies, but the strength of many study conclusions could be weakened if taxonomic identifications are not reproducible by different workers. In this study, to assess the relative importance of a range of possible reasons for among-worker disagreement in identification, 100 specimens of 26 species of macroperforate planktonic foraminifera were selected from a core-top site in the subtropical Pacific Ocean. Twenty-three scientists at different career stages – including some with only a few days experience of planktonic foraminifera – were asked to identify each specimen to species level, and to indicate their confidence in each identification. The participants were provided with a species list and had access to additional reference materials. We use generalised linear mixed-effects models to test the relevance of three sets of factors in identification accuracy: participant-level characteristics (including experience), species-level characteristics (including a participant's knowledge of the species) and specimen-level characteristics (size, confidence in identification). The 19 less experienced scientists achieve a median accuracy of 57%, which rises to 75% for specimens they are confident in. For the 4 most experienced participants, overall accuracy is 79%, rising to 93% when they are confident. To obtain maximum comparability and ease of analysis, everyone used a standard microscope with only 35 ×  magnification, and each specimen was studied in isolation. Consequently, these data provide a lower limit for an estimate of consistency. Importantly, participants could largely predict whether their identifications were correct or incorrect: their own assessments of specimen-level confidence and of their previous knowledge of species concepts were the strongest predictors of accuracy.

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Short summary
In this study we investigate consistency in species-level identifications and whether disagreements are predictable. Twenty-three scientists identified a set of 100 planktonic foraminifera, noting their confidence in each identification. The median accuracy of students was 57 %; 79 % for experienced researchers. Where they were confident in the identifications, the values are 75 % and 93 %, respectively. Accuracy was significantly higher if the students had been taught how to identify species.
In this study we investigate consistency in species-level identifications and whether...