Accuracy and consistency of grass pollen identification by human analysts using electron micrographs of surface ornamentation

Luke Mander, Sarah J. Baker, Claire M. Belcher, Derek S. Haselhorst, Jacklyn Rodriguez, Jessica L. Thorn, Shivangi Tiwari, Dunia H. Urrego, Cassandra J. Wesseln, Surangi W. Punyasena

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Premise of the study: Humans frequently identify pollen grains at a taxonomic rank above species. Grass pollen is a classic case of this situation, which has led to the development of computational methods for identifying grass pollen species. This paper aims to provide context for these computational methods by quantifying the accuracy and consistency of human identifi cation. Methods: We measured the ability of nine human analysts to identify 12 species of grass pollen using scanning electron microscopy images. These are the same images that were used in computational identifi cations. We have measured the coverage, accuracy, and consistency of each analyst, and investigated their ability to recognize duplicate images. Results: Coverage ranged from 87.5% to 100%. Mean identifi cation accuracy ranged from 46.67% to 87.5%. The identifi cation consistency of each analyst ranged from 32.5% to 87.5%, and each of the nine analysts produced considerably different identifi cation schemes. The proportion of duplicate image pairs that were missed ranged from 6.25% to 58.33%. Discussion: The identifi cation errors made by each analyst, which result in a decline in accuracy and consistency, are likely related to psychological factors such as the limited capacity of human memory, fatigue and boredom, recency effects, and positivity bias. .

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1400031
JournalApplications in Plant Sciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • automation
  • classifi cation
  • expert analysis
  • identifi cation
  • palynology.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Plant Science


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