BIOLOGICAL TAXONOMY AND ONTOLOGY DEVELOPMENT: SCOPE AND LIMITATIONS

Nico M Franz

Abstract


The prospects of integrating full-blown biological taxonomies into an ontological reasoning framework are critically reviewed. The common usage of a static 'snapshot' hierarchy in ontological representations of taxonomy is contrasted with a more realistic situation that involves dynamic, piece-meal revisions of particular taxonomic groups and requires alignment with relevant preceding perspectives. Taxonomic practice is characterized by a range of phenomena that are orthogonal to the logical background from which ontological entities and relationships originate, and therefore pose special challenges to ontological representation and reasoning. Among these phenomena are: (1) the notion that there is a single phylogenetic hierarchy in nature which taxonomy can only gradually approximate; (2) the evolvability of taxa which means that taxon-defining features may be lost in subordinate members or independently gained across multiple sections of the tree of life; (3) the hybrid approach of defining taxa both in reference to properties (intensional) and members (ostensive) which undermines the individual/class dichotomy sustaining conventional ontologies; (4) the idiosyncratic yet inferentially valuable usage of Linnaean ranks; (5) the indelible and semantically complex 250-year legacy of nomenclatural and taxonomic changes that characterizes the current system; (6) the insufficient taxonomic exploration of large portions of the tree of life; and the need to use a sophisticated terminology for aligning taxonomic entities in order to integrate both (7) single and (8) multiple hierarchies. It is suggested that research along the taxonomy/ontology interface should focus on either strictly nomenclatural entities or specialize in ontology-driven methods for producing alignments between multiple taxonomies.

Keywords


evolvability, individuals versus classes, intension versus ostension, legacy information integration, nomenclature, ontology alignment, phylogeny, static versus dynamic ontologies, taxonomic concepts

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17161/bi.v7i1.3927

Copyright (c) 2011 Nico M Franz



Biodiversity Informatics. ISSN: 1546-9735
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