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Posts tagged ‘taxonomy’

Thoughts: How many concepts are we talking about

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).

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SPNHC 2015 presentation – Taxonomic concept resolution for voucher-based biodiversity information platforms

Slides are up for our SPNHC 2015 concept taxonomy presentation.

Franz 2015 SPNHC Taxonomic concept resolution for voucher-based biodiversity information platforms from taxonbytes

Thoughts: Humans, computers, and identifier granularity

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.

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Thoughts: Why stability in nomenclature, and at what cost?

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.

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Thoughts: How taxonomically binding is biological nomenclature

Biological nomenclature and taxonomy are both different yet also somehow interconnected. It is sometimes stated that the two kinds of practices are largely independent of each other. Yet we also know that – to some degree – Code-compliant nomenclature must respond to taxonomic change. Pyle & Michel (2008) review the relationship of nomenclature and taxonomy in (what seem to me) often reiterated terms. They write (pages 41-42):

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Running list of nomenclatural acts (NMF)

A flat, running list of nomenclatural and taxonomic “novelties” I have been part of. So much more to do. In chronological order:

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Announcing the Sixth Annual Lepidoptera Course, 16–25 August, 2015

Held at the Southwestern Research Station (SWRS) in the Chiricahua Mountains in SE Arizona (a 2.5 hour drive from Tucson), the focus of the Lep Course 2015 (August 16-25, 2015) is to train graduate students, postdocs, faculty, state and federal employees, and citizen-scientists in the classification and identification of adult Lepidoptera and their larvae. Topics to be covered include the biology and systematics of major families of Lepidoptera, an introduction to adult and larval morphology with a focus on taxonomically important traits, extensive field work that concentrates on  both collecting and photographing adults and larvae, collecting and curatorial techniques, genitalic dissection, larval classification, use (and abuse) of DNA barcoding, and general topics in Lepidoptera systematics, ecology, and evolution.

With its extensive series of Sky Island mountain ranges, SE Arizona has the highest Lepidoptera diversity in the United States. With low desert scrub, oak and mixed oak-pine woodland, lush riparian, juniper, Douglas fir, and mountain meadow habitats – all within a 40 minute drive from the station – the SWRS is an ideal location from which to sample this diversity of both habitats and species.

If you want to interact with other Lepidoptera enthusiasts, see a spectacular Dysschema, identify the Organ of vom Rath, sort through trap samples with hundreds of species, learn about diversity of Lepidoptera, and enjoy the vistas of the SE Arizona, then this course will provide a unique experience.

Partial list of invited instructors (subject to change):

  • Richard Brown (Mississippi Entomological Museum)
  • Jennifer Bundy (RD4AG)
  • Chris Grinter (Illinois Natural History Survey)
  • Don Harvey (Smithsonian Institution)
  • Sangmi Lee (Arizona State University Hasbrouck Insect Collection)
  • Chris Schmidt (Canadian National Collection)
  • Bruce Walsh (University of Arizona)

For more information, see or or contact Bruce Walsh at You can also see photos and comments from students in the 2011 course at their facebook site, “2011 Lep Course, SWRS SEAZ”.

New publication: Reasoning over taxonomic change – Perelleschus

The first, fleshed out use case of the Euler/X project was published yesterday in PLoS ONE. This paper is a companion to the phylogenetic revision of the acalyptine weevil genus Perelleschus sec. Franz & Cardona-Duque (2013), and translates the 54 taxonomic concepts and 75 RCC-5 articulations provided in that paper into 13 logically consistent alignments and visualizations, with additional inferred articulations.

Franz, N.M., M. Chen, S. Yu, P. Kianmajd, S. Bowers & B. Ludäscher. 2015. Reasoning over taxonomic change: exploring alignments for the Perelleschus use case. PLoS ONE 10(2): e0118247. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0118247. Available on-line here.

Very glad to see this one published; at the same time there are other use case papers in the pipeline (Andropogon, Primates). The particular motivation for this paper was to resolve sets of several small-scale yet taxonomically and phylogenetically complex input trees with the RCC-5 concept alignment approach and Euler/X toolkit. The paper is written in a “how to?” style, successively exploring and explaining the connections between the user-provided input constraints and the over-, under-, or well-specified reasoning outcomes. It deals with issues of logical consistency, input sufficiency, ambiguity, and alternative ways to align (parent) concepts in reference to either (1) their intensionally circumscribed properties (which may include synapomorphies) or (2) the ostensively indicated members. This corresponds to the program outlined in Franz & Thau (2010).

One reviewer wrote: “With an exceptionally suited use case, the complexity of taxonomic reasoning and its translation to machine processing are depicted in unprecedented form.” Our ultimate goal is to develop a widely applicable reference and linkage system for taxonomic products that human users create but which is actually optimized for computational processing – without compromising the Linnaean system whose services to humans are profoundly valuable.