And now, a dispatch from my current research. Consider these two images of the same species of Heterospilus wasp:
The color image was produced with standard light microscopy, the crisp monochromatic one using a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). We are currently deciding the extent to which we should pay to include the more expensive SEM images in a taxonomic monograph describing hundreds of new species.
The details of surface sculpture turn out to be rather important in separating Heterospilus species- and SEM reveals these characteristics in stunning detail. Points for SEM.
But users of the monograph will generally use only light microscopes, so it’s not like they’ll be able to make comparisons of their specimens to our SEMs. Points for light microscopy.
The cost of including SEMs is both time- it’ll take an extra month or two to take and process SEM images of each species- and money, in the form of salary and the $50/hour rate of using the machine. This, ironically, may lead to a print publication with fewer illustrations as we could eat into publication costs to pay for the SEMs.
The benefit to including more SEMs is a final online product that is better illustrated with respect to key characters.
I mention this not to coax opinions from the blogosphere, but just as an example of the sorts of decisions that are made in budgeting a NSF-funded biodiversity project. Plus, it’s on my mind this week.