11.07.2016 17:26

UEFA EURO 2016 final a challenge to biologists

Yesterday night at the UEFA EURO 2016 final, these pictures have been a hot topic: Not only Ronaldo had a vistor, but the entire stadium (movie) has been full of a particular moth species.  


 (source: https://twitter.com/DarrenJarvisArt/status/752471779810107392/photo/1)


 (source: https://twitter.com/kenearlys/status/752192040310542337)

In fact the Guardian published a good explanation of this phenomenon and the species has been identified as Silver Y, as well as the Bund with some notes on the ecological role of the Gamma Eule

From a taxonomists point of view, I wanted to get some baseline information. What is the scientific name of this species? Who described it and what do the taxonomists know about it?

Google helped to make an initial link from Silver Y to Wikipedia’s respective page,  and from there to the scientific name Autographa gamma described by Linnaeus 1758, albeit the brackets around the name indicate, that it has originally been described under another name.

The hyperlink of Linnaeus is not particularly helpful since it points to the respective biographic page. 1758 a bit more since it is linked to the respective work, the 10th edition of Systema Naturae, and from there to a digital copy on the Biodiversity Heritage Library. www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/10277 . But it wasn’t that helpful, because to find gamma is not easy in such a volume of over 800 pages. The OCR would not allow to find this page, since it is pretty garbeled:

Gamma 91. P. Noclua fpirilinguis criftata, ajis deflexis: fuperiori-
bus fufcis h aar^o infcriptis, Fn. fvec. 873.
GW. w/ 2. *. 21. ,*/£. ntf t. 79. /. G. ft
Lift. good. f. 14. Fr»yjrA. iuf. s- '• if*
Blank, inf. t. 8. f. N. P. Reaum. inf. 2. t. 26, 27- /. *•
Pet, gaz. t. 64. /. 6. Aaf. inf. I. fbal. 3. t. 5-. 
Raj. inf. 163. ». 17. Wtlk. pap. 34. *. 2. a. I.
iJf^r. «*r. 82. / 78. 
Habitat in Abrotano, Boragine, Lacluca.
Larva geometrica, 12 -poda, viridis, fubpilofa, nee idea
ad Geometras amandanda

Despite that “Gamma” has been converted properly, BHL would not show it in the search (at least now so I would find it).

Even If I would have discovered gamma on page 513, I would not be certain that it is the same species, since it is listed as Phalaena (Noctua), which explains the afore mentioned bracket around Linnaeus, 1758.

Google provided also another link to “The global Lepidoptera Names Index” which is more specific. The database entry would not be very helpful, would there not be an image of the source card index file.

with a typed entry of the original combination of the name which again, led to this image of the file


Now there is at least a citation to the page where the taxonomic treatment of the new described species is. But still, to find the article, not to speak to get the text ready for data mining is a complex, time consuming process that eventually leads to the text minable original version ready for Linked Open Data 

The above described access to scientific literature is not really what is generally understood under digitizing a collection and making data ready to create a Biodiversity Knowledge Graph.

There are other ways to try to get to the respective publications, but none is linked to a digital copy of the articles – even if it is “only” a PDF. These are sites that ought to focus on providing this link from a taxonomic name to the underlying scientific evidence – that is the treatment.

It would be helpful, if Catalogue of Life, GBIF,  Fauna Europaea, the EU BON taxonomic backbone or the Index of Organism Names would at least aim to provide such a system.  Wikidata might be another candidate with a clear intention to produce Linked Open Data. Zoobank and IPNI provide for some of their taxa links to the respective published pages. Right now, it is only TreatmentBank that offers links to the data in legacy publications.

Clearly, if taxonomy wants to be relevant, spending hours to make one name halfway into the Linked Open Data Cloud at the current cost and practice, this is and will not be the solution. And even to get there is only part of the solution: What the user of journalist ultimately wants is the knowledge about a given species - e.g. the Silver Y - with access to all the related scientific data - especially in the age of investigative journalism, instant access through LOD, and debate of reproducibility of science.