Fourth post in this sequence (here are posts 1, 2, 3, respectively). Changing gears a little. The motivation for this post is to explore the interactions of explicitly and implicitly communicated taxonomic concepts in conversations among (living, meeting) humans with comparable levels of taxonomic expertise. How many identifiers are we talking about?
The exploration has two parts. The first part simulates a brief conversation of the kind that two human speakers may engage in while meeting in the hallways at a taxonomically oriented conference. The speakers know of each other, either through prior personal interactions or (minimally) by having read several of each other’s taxonomic publications. The conversation is hypothetical, and even though certain real persons are mentioned, the sole purpose of this is to add some realism, not to pass my judgment on any taxonomic particulars. The post is about exploring how the issue of taxonomic name/concept identifier resolution relates to this kind of communication, generally.
The second part examines the conservation from the perspective of representing taxonomic reference – “logically”. By that I mean framing the taxonomic content identifiers communicated explicitly or implicitly by the human speakers in such a way that a computational, logic-based application can adequately represent them. Ok, so here goes (in part, as it will turn out).
A 1-year NSF Funded Postdoctoral Fellow position is available immediately in the Section of Invertebrate Zoology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, PA. Specific details of the position, and instructions on how to apply, are listed in the announcement below. The initial review of applications is scheduled to begin on June 25th, but will be continued to accept applications until the position is filled.
Third post in this sequence. In the first post, I reviewed that biological nomenclature promotes (even requires) fairly deep taxonomic semantics, due to semantically forceful principles such as Typification, Priority, Coordination, and Binomial Names. In the second post, I suggested (again, nothing very new here) that the Linnaean system has many features which, given the task on hand (reliably identifying nature’s hierarchy), are nearly optimally aligned with evolutionarily constrained human cognitive universals.
Both posts are ultimately about advancing biodiversity informatics infrastructure design. That motivation points to finding sound models of knowledge communication in the taxonomic domain. Lessons from the two preceding posts may be as follows. (1) If the goal is to build data environments that largely continue to reflect the strengths and weaknesses of human cognitive universals, then the particular balance struck by Linnaean names and name relationships acting as identifiers of evolving human taxonomy making is adequate. (2) There may be better solutions out there, particularly solutions that more effectively utilize the reasoning and scalability strengths of computational logic.
This 8-minute screenshot video, produced in late April, 2015, demonstrates the interaction of the Exploring Taxonomic Concepts (ETC) and Euler/X software tools.
The ETC team has built a highly useful and effective front-end web service to the Euler/X reasoning services, allowing users to import two concept taxonomies through an on-line file management system, provide articulations, run input visualizations, obtain logically consistent alignments, and extract these products from the web interface to the desktop. The underlying ideas and methods are explained in Franz et al. (2015).
The capabilities of the user interface are illustrated with the Minyomerus use case, aligning two classifications authored in 2015 and 1982, respectively.
ETC Euler Taxonomic Concept Alignment Demonstration – Minyomerus 2015 versus 1982 from taxonbytes on Vimeo.
Another post on nomenclature, related to this previous post on the possibly thankfully strong influence of nomenclatural principles on taxonomic practice.
Many taxonomists, including myself certainly, continue to wonder and explore why exactly nomenclature is the way it is. The aim is first and foremost to obtain a sound explanatory account. Whether one likes the explanations, or the practice as illuminated in part by the explanations, is initially another subject.
Time for some reflection on this (2015) Spring’s Weekly Discussion on Phenotype ontologies – origins, theory, applications, prospects, and challenges. It gets to be a little (and intentionally) provocative (as opposed to very carefully thought out) towards the end.
We started off three months ago with Daduhl et al. 2010, who provide an inspiring vision on the subject (page 370):
“The application of ontologies to systematics has the potential to force clarification and improve communication about morphological character diversity across taxonomic domains. As a result, ontologies could extend the applicability and level of universality of characters for phylogenetic analysis and improve the knowledge of evolutionary transformations. These computable vocabularies could enable efficient computer processing of vast amounts of data and allow the exploration and aggregation of data across studies that is currently difficult to do in morphology-based phylogenetics.”
Last week we read and appreciated Seltmann et al.’s (2012) effort to carefully describe the benefits, use, and user community roll-out of the spectacularly well annotated Hymenoptera Anatomy Ontology Portal. We clearly need and want something like this for Coleoptera. That said, we continue to explore options to maybe do things a little differently. Looking for inspiration, we are reading once more what is to my mind one of the best demonstrations of how phenotype ontologies can be used to address research questions – by phylogenetic systematists, for phylogenetic systematists.
Ramírez, M.J. & P. Michalik. 2014. Calculating structural complexity in phylogenies using ancestral ontologies. Cladistics (Early View). Available here.
We are also starting, based on this semester’s cumulative readings, to formulate some interests of our own. Hence the following homework for all; due by next Wednesday’s discussion.
Formulate three research themes or questions that are comparative/phylogenetic in nature and could possibly make use of phenotype ontologies. Be very specific; ideally starting with the taxonomic group and character system that you are most intimately acquainted with. (in my case, e.g., that might be acalyptine weevil mouthparts). Best to work outward from the current core of your taxonomic expertise. Research ideas might take into account (yet are clearly not limited to):
- Evolution of phenotype complexity, reduction.
- Correlations across character systems.
- Presence/absence of traits across larger phylogenetic groups and within/among subgroups.
- Relationships of traits to non-organismal variables (e.g., environment).
- Annotations and inferences targeting the specimen level versus or higher taxon entities.
- Evolutionary rates, timing.
- Associations, coevolutionary themes.
- Information availability, completeness, suitability for analysis.
- … [insert your favored domain of phenomena or inquiry here]
The idea is to engage in a bit of a reverse engineering exercise. We know that the earliest phenotype ontologies came out of the model organism community – what Nelson & Platnick (1981) might refer to as “general biology” (pages 4-5). Yet systematists tend to ask comparative questions. What (if any) general structures, entities, and relationships do these comparative/phylogenetic questions entail? Which kinds of inferences are we (most) interested in? How would the components needed to accommodate the inferences be fruitfully translated into a logic framework?
In other words, let’s pretend we are well advised to engage in some conceptual modeling for the future design of a Coleoptera Anatomy Ontology (which may not carry such a name in the end). Start with nailing down our most highly domain-specific questions. Abstract overarching design needs from these. Pretend that solutions will follow.
Calls are going out currently to submit Symposium proposals for the XXV International Congress of Entomology (ICE 2016) in Orlando. Here is the summary for one such proposal led by Nico Franz and Katja Seltmann and intended for the category: Biodiversity, Biogeography and Conservation Biology. If you would like to contribute as potential speaker to this Symposium proposal, please contact Nico Franz (s0on).
Title: Building the Biodiversity Knowledge Graph for Insects – Components, Progress, Challenges.
Presentation Type: Combination Oral and Poster Presentations.