Publisher(s): Journal of Nature Conservation
Reshu Bashyal, David L. Roberts
Biodiversity is threatened by multiple factors including habitat loss, climate change, and over-exploitation. The illegal wildlife trade is one of the key threats to species survival and its regulation and monitoring are dependent on accurate identification. Plants are particularly difficult to identify due to their look-alike properties, which are further aggravated when they are processed eventually in their finished product. Identification of species is critical to monitoring, detecting, and regulating the wildlife trade. In this study, we quantified species misidentification using a match-mismatch experiment adapted from psychology, taking examples of medicinal plant products used in Traditional Asian Medicines. Participants compared 210 pairs of images of plant products, indicating if the paired images were the same (species), different (species), or (they) did not know. We found that the matched pairs (paired images of the same species) had a lower level of error than the unmatched pairs (paired images of different species). Similarly, 1.4% of the image pairs had errors over 75%, three of them as high as 83%. Such errors in species identification can be used by traders to deceive enforcement actions through laundering as less threatened or regulated species. These results suggest that future interventions around identification training should prioritize species with high errors and should consider that product processing may have a significant impact on identification. Further, initiatives related to species identification could benefit from using existing standard methodologies from psychology to inform training needs and measure their impacts which in turn will benefit conservation efforts.