Field Research Project: Plant Identification at the Biocore Prarie

BioCore students increased their speed and accuracy in plant identification with a UW–Madison-developed mobile field research tool.

Project Description

In the Fall of 2013, in collaboration with Seth McGee and the BioCore program, MLI developed and evaluated a mobile app for identifying prairie plants. Proven to be faster and more accurate than using a traditional dichotomous key of field guide, the program quickly filters down to potential matches based on choosing a few simple plant attributes.

By leveraging human skills at visual pattern recognition, and computing’s ability to sort and filter, this work will be foundational in developing a more general field research tool for all sorts of identification and assessment activities. MLI envisions that this will lead to a spreadsheet-driven platform, so any faculty or student can apply it to their own identification and assessment problems and quickly and inexpensively create their own tool.


Biocore Paper

Read the Full Research Paper


The App

iOS Source Code:

For the first round of this development, the team focused on the general identification tool. Below are some screenshots and a link to download the software.

Choose a plant component

View remaining plant possibilities

Plant details


Key Findings

  • The mobile app increased the accuracy and efficiency of plant identification of novice users in comparison to the traditional field guide
  • Having students work in pars and having each member of the team have a resource (app or field guide) increases the amount of communication which may increase learning


Seth McGee – Biocore Instructor, Subject Expert
David Gagnon – Producer, Designer, Co-Researcher
Breanne Litts – Lead Researcher
John Martin – Co-Researcher, Co-Designer
Justin Moeller – Developer
Nick Heidl – Developer
Phil Dougherty – Developer
Casey Shmoeger – Biocore Student Assistant
Nick Dykstra –  Biocore Student Assistant
Sarah Tilton – Biocore Student Assistant
Shelby Copeland – MLI Video Producer

Special Thanks to the Biocore Prairie Crew