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BioNames update - matching taxon names to classifications

On eof the things BioNames will need to do is match taxon names to classifications. For example, if I want to display a taxonomic hierarchy for the user to browse through the names, then I need a map between the taxon names that I've collected and one or more classifications. The approach I'm taking is to match strings, wherever possible using both the name and taxon authority. In many cases this is straightforward, especially if there is only one taxon with a name. But often we have cases where the same name has been used more than once for different taxa. For example, here is what ION has for the name "Nystactes".
Nystactes Bohlke2735131
Nystactes Gloger 18274888093
Nystactes Kaup 18294888094

If I want to map these names to GBIF then these are corresponding taxa with the name "Nystactes":
Nystactes Böhlke, 19572403398
Nystactes Gloger, 18272475109
Nystactes Kaup, 18293239722

Clearly the names are almost identical, but there are enough little differences (presence or absence of comma, "o" versus "ö") to make things interesting. To make the mapping I construct a bipartite graph where the nodes are taxon names, divided into two sets based on which database they came from. I then connect the nodes of the graph by edges, weighted by how similar the names are. For example, here is the graph for "Nystactes" (displayed using Google images:

I then compute the maximum weighted bipartite matching using a C++ program I wrote. This matching corresponds to the solid lines in the graph above.

In this way we can make a sensible guess as to how names in the two databases relate to one another.

BioNames update - API documentation

One of the fun things about developing web sites is learning new tricks, tools, and techniques. Typically I hack away on my MacBook, and when something seems vaguely usable I stick it on a web server. For BioNames things need to be a little more formalised, especially as I'm collaborating with another developer (Ryan Schenk). Ryan is focussing on the front end, I'm working on the data (harvesting, cleaning, storing).

In most projects I've worked on the code to talk to the database and the code to display results have been the same, it was ugly but it got things. For this project these two aspects have to be much more cleaning separated so that Ryan and I can work independently. One way to do this is to have a well-defined API that Ryan can develop against. This means I can hide the sometimes messy details of how to communicate with the data, and Ryan doesn't need to worry about how to get access to the data.

Nice idea, but to be workable it requires that the API is documented (if it's just me then the documentation is in my head). Documentation is a pain, and it is easy for it to get out of sync with the code such that what the docs say an API does and what it actually does are two separate things (sound familiar?). What would be great is a tool that enables you to write the API documentation, and make that "live" so that the API output can be tested against. In other words, a tool like is free, very slick, and comes with GitHUb integration. I've started to document the BioNames API at These documents are "live" in that you can try out the API and get live results from the BioNames database.

I'm sure this is all old news to real software developers (as opposed to people like me who know just enough to get themselves into trouble), but it's quite liberating to start with the API first before worrying about what the web site will look like.

New look Biodiversity Heritage Library launched

The new look Biodiversity Heritage Library has just launched. It's a complete refresh of the old site, based on the Biodiversity Heritage Library–Australia site. If you want an overview of what's new, BHL have published a guide to the new look site. Congrats to involved in the relaunch.

One of the new features draws on the work I've been doing on BioStor. The new BHL interface adds the notion of "parts" of an item, which you can see under the "Table of Contents" tab. For example, the scanned volume 109 of the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington now displays a list of articles within that volume:

This means you can now jump to individual articles. Before you had to scroll through the scan, or click through page numbers until you found what you were after. The screenshot above shows the article "Three new species of chewing lice (Phthiraptera: Ischnocera: Philopteridae) from australian parrots (Psittaciformes: Psittacidae)". The details of this article have been extracted from BioStor, where this article appears as You can go directly to this article in BHL using the link As an aside, I've chosen this article because it helps demonstrate that BHL has modern content as well as pre-1923 literature, and this article names a louse, Neopsittaconirmus vincesmithi after a former student of mine, Vince Smith. You're nobody in this field unless you've had a louse named after you ;)

BioStor has over 90,000 articles, but this is a tiny fraction of the articles contained in BHL content, so there's a long way to go until the entire archive is indexed to article level. There will also be errors in the article metadata derived from BioStor. If we invoke Linus's Law ("given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow") then having this content in BHL should help expose those errors more rapidly.

As always, I have a few niggles about the site, but I'll save those for another time. For noe, I'm happy to celebrate an extraordinary, open access archive of over 40 million pages. BHL represents one of the few truly indispensable biodiversity resources online.