Real-time remote diagnostics for ecology: Wheeler et al.'s vision realized



Real-time remote diagnostic tools may help to overcome the “taxonomic impediment” of dwindling and geographically fragmented taxonomic expertise. We tested several real-time remote microscopy systems based on desktop videoconferencing or virtual research environments (VREs) using standardized performance tests and real diagnostic challenges. All performed well, but ease of use was greatest for those systems with a dedicated audio channel, a remote pointer, and control over image quality. The greatest impediment to implementation was the need to overcome internet firewall restrictions. We also implemented a remote specimen viewing system for the New Zealand Arthropod Collection, and compared its performance and cost with that of the conventional specimen loan system. Successful real-time remote identifications were made on a wide variety of arthropod taxa, and there were major benefits: specimen access was more timely, operational costs were lowered, and the risk of specimen damage was reduced. Widespread adoption of such systems may help to overcome the taxonomic challenges facing the disciplines of ecology and evolution.