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1.  Semantics in Support of Biodiversity Knowledge Discovery: An Introduction to the Biological Collections Ontology and Related Ontologies 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e89606.
The study of biodiversity spans many disciplines and includes data pertaining to species distributions and abundances, genetic sequences, trait measurements, and ecological niches, complemented by information on collection and measurement protocols. A review of the current landscape of metadata standards and ontologies in biodiversity science suggests that existing standards such as the Darwin Core terminology are inadequate for describing biodiversity data in a semantically meaningful and computationally useful way. Existing ontologies, such as the Gene Ontology and others in the Open Biological and Biomedical Ontologies (OBO) Foundry library, provide a semantic structure but lack many of the necessary terms to describe biodiversity data in all its dimensions. In this paper, we describe the motivation for and ongoing development of a new Biological Collections Ontology, the Environment Ontology, and the Population and Community Ontology. These ontologies share the aim of improving data aggregation and integration across the biodiversity domain and can be used to describe physical samples and sampling processes (for example, collection, extraction, and preservation techniques), as well as biodiversity observations that involve no physical sampling. Together they encompass studies of: 1) individual organisms, including voucher specimens from ecological studies and museum specimens, 2) bulk or environmental samples (e.g., gut contents, soil, water) that include DNA, other molecules, and potentially many organisms, especially microbes, and 3) survey-based ecological observations. We discuss how these ontologies can be applied to biodiversity use cases that span genetic, organismal, and ecosystem levels of organization. We argue that if adopted as a standard and rigorously applied and enriched by the biodiversity community, these ontologies would significantly reduce barriers to data discovery, integration, and exchange among biodiversity resources and researchers.
PMCID: PMC3940615  PMID: 24595056
2.  The notes from nature tool for unlocking biodiversity records from museum records through citizen science 
ZooKeys  2012;219-233.
Legacy data from natural history collections contain invaluable and irreplaceable information about biodiversity in the recent past, providing a baseline for detecting change and forecasting the future of biodiversity on a human-dominated planet. However, these data are often not available in formats that facilitate use and synthesis. New approaches are needed to enhance the rates of digitization and data quality improvement. Notes from Nature provides one such novel approach by asking citizen scientists to help with transcription tasks. The initial web-based prototype of Notes from Nature is soon widely available and was developed collaboratively by biodiversity scientists, natural history collections staff, and experts in citizen science project development, programming and visualization. This project brings together digital images representing different types of biodiversity records including ledgers , herbarium sheets and pinned insects from multiple projects and natural history collections. Experts in developing web-based citizen science applications then designed and built a platform for transcribing textual data and metadata from these images. The end product is a fully open source web transcription tool built using the latest web technologies. The platform keeps volunteers engaged by initially explaining the scientific importance of the work via a short orientation, and then providing transcription “missions” of well defined scope, along with dynamic feedback, interactivity and rewards. Transcribed records, along with record-level and process metadata, are provided back to the institutions.  While the tool is being developed with new users in mind, it can serve a broad range of needs from novice to trained museum specialist. Notes from Nature has the potential to speed the rate of biodiversity data being made available to a broad community of users.
PMCID: PMC3406478  PMID: 22859890
Natural History Museums; Biodiversity; Open Source; Museum Collections; Citizen Science; Digitization; Transcription
3.  From documents to datasets: A MediaWiki-based method of annotating and extracting species observations in century-old field notebooks 
ZooKeys  2012;235-253.
Part diary, part scientific record, biological field notebooks often contain details necessary to understanding the location and environmental conditions existent during collecting events. Despite their clear value for (and recent use in) global change studies, the text-mining outputs from field notebooks have been idiosyncratic to specific research projects, and impossible to discover or re-use. Best practices and workflows for digitization, transcription, extraction, and integration with other sources are nascent or non-existent. In this paper, we demonstrate a workflow to generate structured outputs while also maintaining links to the original texts. The first step in this workflow was to place already digitized and transcribed field notebooks from the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History founder, Junius Henderson, on Wikisource, an open text transcription platform. Next, we created Wikisource templates to document places, dates, and taxa to facilitate annotation and wiki-linking. We then requested help from the public, through social media tools, to take advantage of volunteer efforts and energy. After three notebooks were fully annotated, content was converted into XML and annotations were extracted and cross-walked into Darwin Core compliant record sets. Finally, these recordsets were vetted, to provide valid taxon names, via a process we call “taxonomic referencing.” The result is identification and mobilization of 1,068 observations from three of Henderson’s thirteen notebooks and a publishable Darwin Core record set for use in other analyses. Although challenges remain, this work demonstrates a feasible approach to unlock observations from field notebooks that enhances their discovery and interoperability without losing the narrative context from which those observations are drawn.
“Compose your notes as if you were writing a letter to someone a century in the future.”
Perrine and Patton (2011)
PMCID: PMC3406479  PMID: 22859891
Field notes; notebooks; crowd sourcing; digitization; biodiversity; transcription; text-mining; Darwin Core; Junius Henderson; annotation; taxonomic referencing; natural history; Wikisource; Colorado; species occurrence records

Results 1-3 (3)