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Taxonomic provenance: two influential primate classifications logically aligned

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Franz, N. M., Pier, N. M., Reeder, D. M., Chen, M., Yu, S., Kianmajd, P., ... & Ludäscher, B. (2014). Taxonomic provenance: two influential primate classifications logically aligned. arXiv preprint arXiv:1412.1025.

Publication Abstract

Classification standards such as the Mammal Species of the World (MSW) aim to unify name usages at the global scale, but may nevertheless experience significant levels of taxonomic change from one edition to the next. This circumstance challenges the biodiversity and phylogenetic data communities to develop more granular identifiers to track taxonomic congruence and incongruence in ways that both humans and machines can process, i.e., to logically represent taxonomic provenance across multiple classification hierarchies. Here we show that reasoning over taxonomic provenance is feasible for two classifications of primates corresponding to the second and third MSW editions. Our approach entails three main components: (1) individuation of name usages as taxonomic concepts, (2) articulation of concepts via human-asserted Region Connection Calculus (RCC-5) relationships, and (3) the use of an Answer Set Programming toolkit to infer and visualize logically consistent alignments of these taxonomic input constraints. Our use case entails the Primates sec. Groves (1993; MSW2 - 317 taxonomic concepts; 233 at the species level) and Primates sec. Groves (2005; MSW3 - 483 taxonomic concepts; 376 at the species level). Using 402 concept-to-concept input articulations, the reasoning process yields a single, consistent alignment, and infers 153,111 Maximally Informative Relations that constitute a comprehensive provenance resolution map for every concept pair in the Primates sec. MSW2/MSW3. The entire alignment and various partitions facilitate quantitative analyses of name/meaning dissociation, revealing that approximately one in three paired name usages across treatments is not reliable - in the sense of the same name identifying congruent taxonomic meanings. We conclude with an optimistic outlook for logic-based provenance tools in next-generation biodiversity and phylogeny data platforms.

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