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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 14, 2024
  2. Abstract

    How should billions of species observations worldwide be shared and made reusable? Many biodiversity scientists assume the ideal solution is to standardize all datasets according to a single, universal classification and aggregate them into a centralized, global repository. This ideal has known practical and theoretical limitations, however, which justifies investigating alternatives. To support better community deliberation and normative evaluation, we develop a novel conceptual framework showing how different organizational models, regulative ideals and heuristic strategies are combined to form shared infrastructures supporting data reuse. The framework is anchored in a general definition of data pooling as an activity of making a taxonomically standardized body of information available for community reuse via digital infrastructure. We describe and illustrate unified and pluralistic ideals for biodiversity data pooling and show how communities may advance toward these ideals using different heuristic strategies. We present evidence for the strengths and limitations of the unification and pluralistic ideals based on systemic relationships of power, responsibility and benefit they establish among stakeholders, and we conclude the pluralistic ideal is better suited for biodiversity data.

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  3. The State of Arizona in the south-western United States supports a high diversity of insects. Digitised occurrence records, especially from preserved specimens in natural history collections, are an important and growing resource to understand biodiversity and biogeography. Underlying bias in how insects are collected and what that means for interpreting patterns of insect diversity is largely untested. To explore the effects of insect collecting bias in Arizona, the State was regionalised into specific areas. First, the entire State was divided into broad biogeographic areas by ecoregion. Second, the 81 tallest mountain ranges were mapped on to the State. The distribution of digitised records across these areas were then examined.

    A case study of surveying the beetles (Insecta, Coleoptera) of the Sand Tank Mountains is presented. The Sand Tanks are a low-elevation range in the Lower Colorado River Basin subregion of the Sonoran Desert from which a single beetle record was published before this study.

    The number of occurrence records and collecting events are very unevenly distributed throughout Arizona and do not strongly correlate with the geographic size of areas. Species richness is estimated for regions in Arizona using rarefaction and extrapolation. Digitised records from the disproportionately highly collected areas in Arizona represent at best 70% the total insect diversity within them. We report a total of 141 species of Coleoptera from the Sand Tank Mountains, based on 914 digitised voucher specimens. These specimens add important new records for taxa that were previously unavailable in digitised data and highlight important biogeographic ranges.

    Possible underlying mechanisms causing bias are discussed and recommendations are made for future targeted collecting of under-sampled regions. Insect species diversity is apparently at best 70% documented for the State of Arizona with many thousands of species not yet recorded. The Chiricahua Mountains are the most densely sampled region of Arizona and likely contain at least 2,000 species not yet vouchered in online data. Preliminary estimates for species richness of Arizona are at least 21,000 and likely much higher. Limitations to analyses are discussed which highlight the strong need for more insect occurrence data.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 28, 2024
  4. The current crisis in global natural resource management makes it imperative that we better leverage the vast data sources associated with taxonomic entities (such as recognized species of plants and animals), which are known collectively as biodiversity data. However, these data pose considerable challenges for artificial intelligence: while growing rapidly in volume, they remain highly incomplete for many taxonomic groups, often show conflicting signals from different sources, and are multi-modal and therefore constantly changing in structure. In this paper, we motivate, describe, and present a novel workflow combining machine learning and automated reasoning, to discover patterns of taxonomic identity and change - i.e. “taxonomic intelligence” - leading to scalable and broadly impactful AI solutions within the bio-data realm. 
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  5. Making the most of biodiversity data requires linking observations of biological species from multiple sources both efficiently and accurately (Bisby 2000, Franz et al. 2016). Aggregating occurrence records using taxonomic names and synonyms is computationally efficient but known to experience significant limitations on accuracy when the assumption of one-to-one relationships between names and biological entities breaks down (Remsen 2016, Franz and Sterner 2018). Taxonomic treatments and checklists provide authoritative information about the correct usage of names for species, including operational representations of the meanings of those names in the form of range maps, reference genetic sequences, or diagnostic traits. They increasingly provide taxonomic intelligence in the form of precise description of the semantic relationships between different published names in the literature. Making this authoritative information Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable (FAIR; Wilkinson et al. 2016) would be a transformative advance for biodiversity data sharing and help drive adoption and novel extensions of existing standards such as the Taxonomic Concept Schema and the OpenBiodiv Ontology (Kennedy et al. 2006, Senderov et al. 2018). We call for the greater, global Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) and taxonomy community to commit to extending and expanding on how FAIR applies to biodiversity data and include practical targets and criteria for the publication and digitization of taxonomic concept representations and alignments in taxonomic treatments, checklists, and backbones. As a motivating case, consider the abundantly sampled North American deer mouse— Peromyscus maniculatus (Wagner 1845)—which was recently split from one continental species into five more narrowly defined forms, so that the name P. maniculatus is now only applied east of the Mississippi River (Bradley et al. 2019, Greenbaum et al. 2019). That single change instantly rendered ambiguous ~7% of North American mammal records in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (n=242,663, downloaded 2021-06-04; 2021) and ⅓ of all National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) small mammal samples (n=10,256, downloaded 2021-06-27). While this type of ambiguity is common in name-based databases when species are split, the example of P. maniculatus is particularly striking for its impact upon biological questions ranging from hantavirus surveillance in North America to studies of climate change impacts upon rodent life-history traits. Of special relevance to NEON sampling is recent evidence suggesting deer mice potentially transmit SARS-CoV-2 (Griffin et al. 2021). Automating the updating of occurrence records in such cases and others will require operational representations of taxonomic concepts—e.g., range maps, reference sequences, and diagnostic traits—that are FAIR in addition to taxonomic concept alignment information (Franz and Peet 2009). Despite steady progress, it remains difficult to find, access, and reuse authoritative information about how to apply taxonomic names even when it is already digitized. It can also be difficult to tell without manual inspection whether similar types of concept representations derived from multiple sources, such as range maps or reference sequences selected from different research articles or checklists, are in fact interoperable for a particular application. The issue is therefore different from important ongoing efforts to digitize trait information in species circumscriptions, for example, and focuses on how already digitized knowledge can best be packaged to inform human experts and artifical intelligence applications (Sterner and Franz 2017). We therefore propose developing community guidelines and criteria for FAIR taxonomic concept representations as "semantic artefacts" of general relevance to linked open data and life sciences research (Le Franc et al. 2020). 
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  6. null (Ed.)
    “What is crucial for your ability to communicate with me… pivots on the recipient’s capacity to interpret—to make good inferential sense of the meanings that the declarer is able to send” (Rescher 2000, p148). Conventional approaches to reconciling taxonomic information in biodiversity databases have been based on string matching for unique taxonomic name combinations (Kindt 2020, Norman et al. 2020). However, in their original context, these names pertain to specific usages or taxonomic concepts, which can subsequently vary for the same name as applied by different authors. Name-based synonym matching is a helpful first step (Guala 2016, Correia et al. 2018), but may still leave considerable ambiguity regarding proper usage (Fig. 1). Therefore, developing "taxonomic intelligence" is the bioinformatic challenge to adequately represent, and subsequently propagate, this complex name/usage interaction across trusted biodiversity data networks. How do we ensure that senders and recipients of biodiversity data not only can share messages but do so with “good inferential sense” of their respective meanings? Key obstacles have involved dealing with the complexity of taxonomic name/usage modifications through time, both in terms of accounting for and digitally representing the long histories of taxonomic change in most lineages. An important critique of proposals to use name-to-usage relationships for data aggregation has been the difficulty of scaling them up to reach comprehensive coverage, in contrast to name-based global taxonomic hierarchies (Bisby 2011). The Linnaean system of nomenclature has some unfortunate design limitations in this regard, in that taxonomic names are not unique identifiers, their meanings may change over time, and the names as a string of characters do not encode their proper usage, i.e., the name “Genus species” does not specify a source defining how to use the name correctly (Remsen 2016, Sterner and Franz 2017). In practice, many people provide taxonomic names in their datasets or publications but not a source specifying a usage. The information needed to map the relationships between names and usages in taxonomic monographs or revisions is typically not presented it in a machine-readable format. New approaches are making progress on these obstacles. Theoretical advances in the representation of taxonomic intelligence have made it increasingly possible to implement efficient querying and reasoning methods on name-usage relationships (Chen et al. 2014, Chawuthai et al. 2016, Franz et al. 2015). Perhaps most importantly, growing efforts to produce name-usage mappings on a medium scale by data providers and taxonomic authorities suggest an all-or-nothing approach is not required. Multiple high-profile biodiversity databases have implemented internal tools for explicitly tracking conflicting or dynamic taxonomic classifications, including eBird using concept relationships from AviBase (Lepage et al. 2014); NatureServe in its Biotics database; iNaturalist using its taxon framework (Loarie 2020); and the UNITE database for fungi (Nilsson et al. 2019). Other ongoing projects incorporating taxonomic intelligence include the Flora of Alaska (Flora of Alaska 2020), the Mammal Diversity Database (Mammal Diversity Database 2020) and PollardBase for butterfly population monitoring (Campbell et al. 2020). 
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  7. null (Ed.)