February 2002. Landcare Research, a Crown Research Institute in New Zealand, have been developing digital image capture protocols using the software AutoMontage. This produces sharp, clear images in which all parts of the specimen are in focus.
Landcare Research are currently using this system to capture images of insects and other arthropods via microscopes or hand-held digital cameras with macro lenses or microphotography options. They have plans to extend the use of this system to their plant and fungi systematics research programmes. This has been done elsewhere in the world as the system can be used for both small specimens (e.g. insects) and larger specimens (e.g. plant parts). More information on this can be found on the Landcare Research website http://www.landcare.cri.nz/science/biodiversity/arthropods/combatweb/ in the section on digital imaging http://www.landcare.cri.nz/science/biodiversity/arthropods/combatweb/digitalimaging.htm. Note, however, that their site has not yet been updated to include all the techniques of macrophotography they now use.
How does it work?
AutoMontage is a reduced depth-of-field software. Several focused images are taken from one specimen with a video or digital camera which can be attached to a microscope or simply hand-held. Image capture is achieved by taking a series of pictures from top/front of the specimen to bottom/behind the specimen. Obviously, only part of the whole specimen is in full focus on any one image. To obtain a fully focused image of all parts of the organism, the series of image files is fed through the AutoMontage software which produces a fully focused image by putting together all and only the focused portions of the source images. The URL for more information on AutoMontage is: http://www.syncroscopy.com/syncroscopy/am.asp.
If one cannot get easy access to AutoMontage it is possible for workers in the field to take a series of source images/files and send them to someone to feed through the software. They would only need to know of a few protocols that would need to be followed.
Digital photography is also contributing to the Distance Diagnostics through Digital Imaging project at the University of Georgia, Athens (http://www.DDDI.org). Extension officers and other people interested in getting identification of organisms of importance to primary industry or border control can submit images via the WWW to the DDDI people which maintain a database that records all aspects of the identification process from the field report to the specimen collection (for all taxa). The system is also used to coordinate the identification effort and farm out work to an on-line network of specialists.
Workers in the field undergo a simple training programme and use relatively simple and affordable portable equipment to capture images suitable for dianostic purposes. DDDI have developed some guidelines for the development of this service which include requirements for accompanying information.