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      Redesigning the Trading Zone between Systematics and Conservation: Insights from Malagasy mouse lemur classifications, 1982 to present

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      Biodiversity Information Science and Standards

      Pensoft Publishers

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          Abstract

          Translating information between the domains of systematics and conservation requires novel information management designs. Such designs should improve interactions across the trading zone between the domains, herein understood as the model according to which knowledge and uncertainty are productively translated in both directions (cf. Collins et al. 2019). Two commonly held attitudes stand in the way of designing a well-functioning systematics-to-conservation trading zone. On one side, there are calls to unify the knowledge signal produced by systematics, underpinned by the argument that such unification is a necessary precondition for conservation policy to be reliably expressed and enacted (e.g., Garnett et al. 2020). As a matter of legal scholarship, the argument for systematic unity by legislative necessity is principally false (Weiss 2003, MacNeil 2009, Chromá 2011), but perhaps effective enough as a strategy to win over audiences unsure about robust law-making practices in light of variable and uncertain knowledge. On the other side, there is an attitude that conservation cannot ever restrict the academic freedom of systematics as a scientific discipline (e.g., Raposo et al. 2017). This otherwise sound argument misses the mark in the context of designing a productive trading zone with conservation. The central interactional challenge is not whether the systematic knowledge can vary at a given time and/or evolve over time, but whether these signal dynamics are tractable in ways that actors can translate into robust maxims for conservation.Redesigning the trading zone should rest on the (historically validated) projection that systematics will continue to attract generations of inspired, productive researchers and broad-based societal support, frequently leading to protracted conflicts and dramatic shifts in how practioners in the field organize and identify organismal lineages subject to conservation. This confident outlook for systematics' future, in turn, should refocus the challenge of designing the trading zone as one of building better information services to model the concurrent conflicts and longer-term evolution of systematic knowledge. It would seem unreasonable to expect the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Index to develop better data science models for the dynamics of systematic knowledge (cf. Hoffmann et al. 2011) than are operational in the most reputable information systems designed and used by domain experts (Burgin et al. 2018). The reasonable challenge from conservation to systematics is not to stop being a science but to be a better data science.In this paper, we will review advances in biodiversity data science in relation to representing and reasoning over changes in systematic knowledge with computational logic, i.e., modeling systematic intelligence (Franz et al. 2016). We stress-test this approach with a use case where rapid systematic signal change and high stakes for conservation action intersect, i.e., the Malagasy mouse lemurs (Microcebus É. Geoffroy, 1834 sec. Schüßler et al. 2020), where the number of recognized species-level concepts has risen from 2 to 25 in the span of 38 years (1982–2020). As much as scientifically defensible, we extend our modeling approach to the level of individual published occurrence records, where the inability to do so sometimes reflects substandard practice but more importantly reveals systemic inadequacies in biodiversity data science or informational modeling.In the absence of shared, sound theoretical foundations to assess taxonomic congruence or incongruence across treatments, and in the absence of biodiversity data platforms capable of propagating logic-enabled, scalable occurrence-to-concept identification events to produce alternative and succeeding distribution maps, there is no robust way to provide a knowledge signal from systematics to conservation that is both consistent in its syntax and acccurate in its semantics, in the sense of accurately reflecting the variation and uncertainty that exists across multiple systematic perspectives.Translating this diagnosis into new designs for the trading zone is only one "half" of the solution, i.e., a technical advancement that then would need to be socially endorsed and incentivized by systematic and conservation communities motivated to elevate their collaborative interactions and trade robustly in inherently variable and uncertain information.

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          How many species of mammals are there?

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            Two Influential Primate Classifications Logically Aligned

            Classifications and phylogenies of perceived natural entities change in the light of new evidence. Taxonomic changes, translated into Code-compliant names, frequently lead to name:meaning dissociations across succeeding treatments. Classification standards such as the Mammal Species of the World (MSW) may experience significant levels of taxonomic change from one edition to the next, with potential costs to long-term, large-scale information integration. This circumstance challenges the biodiversity and phylogenetic data communities to express taxonomic congruence and incongruence in ways that both humans and machines can process, that is, to logically represent taxonomic alignments across multiple classifications. We demonstrate that such alignments are feasible for two classifications of primates corresponding to the second and third MSW editions. Our approach has three main components: (i) use of taxonomic concept labels, that is name sec. author (where sec. means according to), to assemble each concept hierarchy separately via parent/child relationships; (ii) articulation of select concepts across the two hierarchies with user-provided Region Connection Calculus (RCC-5) relationships; and (iii) the use of an Answer Set Programming toolkit to infer and visualize logically consistent alignments of these 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 RCC-5 input articulations, the reasoning process yields a single, consistent alignment and 153,111 Maximally Informative Relations that constitute a comprehensive meaning resolution map for every concept pair in the Primates sec. MSW2/MSW3. The complete alignment, and various partitions thereof, facilitate quantitative analyses of name:meaning dissociation, revealing that nearly one in three taxonomic names are not reliable across treatments—in the sense of the same name identifying congruent taxonomic meanings. The RCC-5 alignment approach is potentially widely applicable in systematics and can achieve scalable, precise resolution of semantically evolving name usages in synthetic, next-generation biodiversity, and phylogeny data platforms.
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              Expressing scientific uncertainty

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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                Biodiversity Information Science and Standards
                BISS
                Pensoft Publishers
                2535-0897
                October 09 2020
                October 09 2020
                : 4
                Article
                10.3897/biss.4.59234
                © 2020

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