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Australian Biological Resources Study

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An information system for polychaete families and higher taxa
Version 2: 5 June 2003
by Christopher J. Glasby & Kristian Fauchald

POLiKEY is an interactive key and information system for polychaete families and higher taxa. It contains 104 polychaete taxa, comprising 17 higher-level taxa, 82 families and five subfamily groups. POLiKEY allows the user to obtain identifications of adult polychaetes from any part of the world as well as family descriptions and general information on taxonomy, biology and ecology.

If you use any of the ABRS Online Resources e.g. POLiKEY, we would like you to take our quick User Survey. We would like to know what ABRS Online Resources are being used for. This helps us plan for future developments and improve our existing systems. It should only take a few minutes of your time to complete.


POLiKEY: polychaete identification and information retrieval system.
If Intkey is installed on your computer, click here to download POLiKEY startup file, and when the Windows File Download window pops up, choose to "Open this file from its current location". This process will automatically run POLiKEY.

If clicking on Download POLiKEY startup file instead opens the text file of in your browser (Netscape browsers especially) then choose to "Save Link as" (Right mouse click in Netscape) or "Save this file to disk" (Internet Explorer) to put into your top level Delta folder. To then run POLiKEY manually, Start the programme Intkey from your Start Menu. On the Select Data Set menu choose to Browse for the Initialisation file - This completes the process of using the POLiKEY startup file to run POLiKEY.

Running will cause the POLiKEY dataset (polikey.db) to be downloaded from the Web, and POLiKEY to be activated. At the end of an identification/interrogation session you can choose to save the dataset locally to your hard drive (polikey.db) and index the dataset within Intkey. Images and HTML files remain on the ABRS Web site during online operation.


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Download INTKEY
For operation of POLiKEY, you need the programme Intkey. Download the intk32.exe file to your PC. Run this executable programme by double-clicking on it. This will install the programme Intkey on your system. It will add to your Start Menu the programme Intkey in the newly created Delta folder.You must have at least Windows 95/98/ME or NT/2000/XP operating system. You do not need to have Administrator rights on Windows to install.


Contact Chris Glasby If you have any comments or suggestions please contact Chris Glasby -

What is POLiKEY and why was it developed?

POLiKEY is an interactive key and information retrieval system for polychaete families and higher taxa. It is underpinned by a DELT A database (Dallwitz 1980; Dallwitz, Paine & Zurcher 1993) containing 104 taxa and 134 characters. The system comprises an interactive identification programme, based on Intkey (Dallwitz, Paine & Zurcher 1995), descriptions and illustrations of all polychaete families and higher taxa, a glossary of technical terms, and a comprehensive bibliography. It system provides for:

POLiKEY was made to assist biologists to identify the families and higher taxa of polychaetes because:

Earlier attempts at interactive identification have been regional in scope. For example, the Expert System identification programme Nereis included only the 37 families found in France (Jussien et al. 1994); the WWW key TaxInfo by the Natural History Museum (London) deals with the main benthic families of Thailand and EPIC-online (Easy Polychaete Identification Classification Online) is a WWW key to polychaete families found in Singapore waters developed by Lim Yun Ping, National University of Singapore. POLiKEY is the first interactive web-based key to include all polychaete families and higher taxa.

  1. Traditional paper-based keys to polychaete families published in Day (1967), Fauchald (1977), George & Hartmann-Schröder (1985), Blake (1997) and Glasby & Fauchald (2000) have their limitations. Because of their complexity or lack of illustrations these keys are often difficult to use. More often than not beginners cannot identify a specimen to family because a critical part of the body is missing, or end up with the wrong answer because of an incorrect choice of character state. Interactive keys avoid these problems by allowing the user to use alternative character suites (if say one part of the body is missing), and by allowing more than one character state to be selected in the case of user uncertainty. Click here for an extensive literature on interactive keys.
  2. Families are the lowest taxonomic rank to which polychaetes are identified in many ecological and environmental studies. This is often done for cost-benefit reasons, but more importantly family-level identification is often sufficient (even preferable) in order to detect compositional and/or abundance differences in benthic infaunal assemblages as a result of environmental disturbance; this applies to macrobenthos and meiobenthos, and both soft and hard substrata (Heip et al. 1988; Warwick 1988; Ferraro & Cole 1990; Somerfield & Clarke 1995; Pagola-Carte et al. 2002).

History of development

Version 1: 30 August 2002, online September 2002.
Version 2: 5 June 2003, online 5 June 2003. Improvements in operation including ability to do identifications and interrogations in both normal and advanced modes, the default identification mode is now set to exclude higher taxa, improvements to the quick identification tool, user warnings have been added to inform the user about the use of certain options, and some corrections to the coding of higher taxa (and their HTML description files).

The Authors

Dr Chris Glasby
Curator of Worms, Natural Sciences Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory,
GPO Box 4646, Darwin NT 0801, AUSTRALIA
Ph: +61-8-8999 8108
Fax: +61-8-8999 8289

Dr Kristian Fauchald
Section of Invertebrate Zoology, Systematic Biology, Smithsonian Institution,
PO Box 37012, NHB, W213, MRC 0163 Washington, D.C. 20013-7012, USA
Tel: +1-(202) 357 4757
Fax: +1-(202) 357 3043

POLiKEY: Help for First-time

Users: Before proceeding to use POLiKEY we recommend reading the help file and information files, which can be accessed via the two upper left buttons once POLiKEY is opened.

If you have any other queries concerning the operation of POLiKEY please contact the first author []. Information on Intkey and other DELTA programmes (including how to obtain programmes) is available at the DELTA web site.

What are polychaetes?

Polychaetes are a group of segmented worms belonging to the phylum Annelida. Many text books treat them as a natural ‘monophyletic’ group and have assigned them the rank of Class. More recently they have been considered to be an unranked group of unrelated non-clitellate annelids. Polychaetes display a huge diversity of shapes and sizes, ranging in size from simple meiofaunal forms a few mm long to giant beach worms over 3 m in length. Predatory forms are well-equipped with sensory appendages, jaws and paddle-like feet, whilst tube-dwelling forms have few appendages other than a filter- or deposit-feeding tentacular crown.

Polychaetes form a reasonably uniform ecological group with most species living in, or on, the seabed or in estuaries. They are one of the most commonly encountered and abundant animal groups in the benthos of coastal regions. Less commonly, polychaetes are found in open ocean waters, in river and lake sediments, moist terrestrial habitats, and some species (e.g. most notably Polynoidae) are symbiotic or parasitic on other marine animals. Polychaetes are an important group both ecologically and economically. Ecologically, they are at (or near) the base of many food chains involving commercially important fish and shellfish species, they are common commensal organisms, they play a major role in nutrient recycling, some tubiculous species are reef builders, boring species are reef destroyers, and some species are bioindicators of the health of marine ecosystems. Polychaetes are also an important economically in both positive and negative ways. Species of Nereididae, Glyceridae, Onuphidae and Eunicidae are cultured or wild-harvested for bait or for use as feed in fish and shellfish mariculture. Parasitic species may have a negative effect on the shellfish (e.g. oysters) and others have a negative effect on shipping (hull fouling) and power stations (fouling water intake pipes). from a scientific point of view, polychaetes are a key group in phylogenetic studies of the evolution of complex invertebrates and a model group in studies of invertebrate reproduction and development.

Polychaetes are an ancient group dating back to the Middle Cambrian (540 million years ago), and possibly earlier. However, because they do not fossilise well - usually only the jaws, chaetae, tubes and burrows leave imprints - there are large gaps in the fossil record. To date, about 13 000 polychaete species have been described for the world. The actual number of species is estimated to be 25 000 to 30 000 (Mackie, Parmiter & Tong 1997). So, probably there remains over half the actual number of polychaetes to describe. There are presently over 1000 genera, 82 families and 17 higher taxa, which currently have no formal Linnaean rank. Some families and many genera undoubtedly will require revision as the group becomes better known and understood.

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