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Use of Records

PostPosted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 12:12 pm
by Stuart Bates
Hi all

I may be missing a point in asking this but could somebody explain how the information stored in CATE is actually used? Is the association often asked to provide information from the database?

I'm just interested to know how the database has been utilised to help the association with its work?



Re: Use of Records

PostPosted: Thu Sep 13, 2012 6:23 pm
by admin
That's an interesting fundamental, Stuart, and worth a slightly extended reply.

Not so many years ago the general scientific perception of fungi (those out in the woods and fields) was that they acted as rubbish hoovers, provided food for invertebrates, but served little more significant purpose. Now we know better, and understand that they play a much more intimate role in the biodiversity web through their organic relationships with green plants.

There is, however, virtually no protection in law for fungi, as a Kingdom, unlike flowering plants that are now well protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. There is general agreement that this absence of protection for fungi needs to change. The problem is that, until recently, we have had no effective means of analysing stocks effectively, and without proper statistical analyses, fungi will never receive better protection. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) demands a proper scientific and statistically measured approach to such aspects as evidenced decline in a species, or rarity or vulnerability.

We have 16,000+ species in the UK, and attempts hitherto to categorise them status-wise have failed to achieve anything more than a succession of 'bodges' - various individuals who have manage to get their voices heard have proposed certain species for protection, but based their choices on little more than anecdote, whimsy and personal preference. We have lacked a UK data system for fungi with anything approaching the right capability to clean, sort and analyse those hundreds of thousands of records that have been collected over the years. Allegedly there are something like 1.6 million UK fungus records in existence. In reality this is a wildly optimistic figure, and when you extract all the tens of thousands of duplications and records with no effective provenance, the total figure is probably nearer 1 million. That's still a lot of records to make sense of, but the discrepancy in numbers is at least one good example of the problems that have hampered making any kind of intelligent analysis!

CATE2 is the first data management system for fungi that has received sufficient investment to create the capability for this much-needed assessment. It can basically look at the 3/4 million records currently on the database and extract or extrapolate the kind of information that is needed to comply with IUCN regulations. This high degree of analytical capacity is now drawn on by other organisations. The National Trust, for example, has full access to the system, and can use it to analyse anything from the spread of pathogens like Meripilus on its estates, to the health of its waxcap populations. Natural England has recently drawn on CATE2 to evaluate potential new SSSI sites in England.

We need to finish the job, however. There are still holes in the CATE map, and until we fill those holes, the system cannot be used to draw up a Red Data list of fungi that will stand up to any kind of inspection. But to get the data into a decent state takes time. CATE2 is a system where rigid quality control is being applied to get rid of the 'dross' and to make sure that records have the right place names, grid references and so on.

At county level, CATE is now accessed by most Biological Record Centres to steer and modify their local conservation policies. But it also helps local groups that want to keep track of whether species that are deemed rare or vulnerable in their patch are doing better or worse year by year. We also supply data to universities that are working on specific mycological projects. Recently CATE2 data was used by a research team at the University of Aberdeen to analyse the variations in occurrence of a particular rare species found only in Atlantic hazel woods.


Re: Use of Records

PostPosted: Thu Sep 13, 2012 7:22 pm
by Stuart Bates
Thank you for the in-depth answer, it is fascinating and somewhat bewildering to comprehend just how many records there are out there and I can fully understand that it must take some serious time commitments to make sense of the information they contain!!

A couple of questions have come to me following your response:

1. When you say there are "holes" in the CATE map, do you mean literally that there are areas of the country that are yet to provide records for the database?

2. I assume there are guidelines to follow when entering records onto the system so as to avoid being placed in the "dross" pile?

3. What identifies a record as a duplication? Do two or more records for the same species have to share the same location within a certain period of time or do you literally get records for the exact same find from more than one person (for example on group forays)?

4. Are some species considered "too common" for the database or are all species welcome to be recorded?

I know my questions might seem naive or plain daft, but I just wanted to know before I start hopefully recording my own finds.

Re: Use of Records

PostPosted: Fri Sep 14, 2012 12:46 pm
by admin
Not at all naive, and I sometimes wish more people would ask questions like this.

1. The 'holes in the map' means just that - small geographical areas that have records, but have not yet copied them to the database team.

2. Rightly or wrongly the attitude with CATE2 is that if people choose to take time to record fungi, they will do so within their limits of knowledge. It's a matter of trust, and I like to think that the trust has rarely been let down. If one of the team sees that a record from an obvious beginner is rare, and/or of a species that is difficult to determine effectively, they will probably ask for more detail about who, if anyone vetted it. So the guidelines are: 'record within your own limits'. As far as the process of recording is concerned, the CATE2 recording module makes it very easy and eliminates not only all those tedious typos that at this end take so much time to resolve and correct, but also, no less importantly for data analysis, the 'Heinz 57' ways of describing e.g. a stick of wood lying on the ground. There is virtually no typing involved. It's all about selecting and clicking the right entry from dropdown lists. The recording is thus made very quick. It is done online, and you get back an Excel sheet if you want one.

We are about to develop a tablet application of the recording module that can be taken out in the field, and that downloads to the main data system when you get back home.

3. Duplication has been one of the curses of fungus data management, and it can arise under both conditions that you mention. The principle in CATE is that a species recorded at the same location and with the same associated organism within 10 days is a duplication. One can point to some bizarre cases; There is a species of Hydnellum, and it appears that on a specific year, an RSPB warden tramped the same lane in the Highlands more or less daily over a season, and each time recorded this Hydnellum species, so it appears on a data system about 80 times in the same location within a three month period. One can also readily find examples of where 6 or 7 people on a foray recorded the same common species. On CATE these are classed as duplications and we have a programme that removes many of them automatically. However it is not foolproof. Let's say species X was found in a specified wood, on a specified day, and it recorded twice (or perhaps once and submitted twice!). One of those records associates it with Quercus ilex and the other with Quercus sp. The computer de-duplication programme will treat these as different records, but common sense indicates that they are duplications!

4. It doesn't matter how common a species is, we still record it. If we didn't then the risk is that something that is actually common would start to appear (data-wise) much less so.

Hope this helps a bit more. Let me know when you want to start recording. The team will give you practical support.


Re: Use of Records

PostPosted: Fri Jan 18, 2013 11:43 am
by Sheila Lillie
Thanks for this information I would have been asking exactly the same questions and very interesting too I t wish to start recording my finds and this information has helped greatly as does the forum in general.

Best Wishes
Sheila Lillie