Have We Got the Names “Right”?

The Consortium of Northeastern Herbaria met at the Biodiversity Centre at the University of Montreal on Friday, June 13 and Saturday, June 14. Talks on Friday were split into two engaging sessions on outreach and updates on member activities. A workshop was held on Saturday entitled, “Nomenclature & Taxonomy in Collections: Have we got the names ‘right’?”. To our knowledge, this was the first workshop of its kind in North America. The Canadensys team participated in the workshop to get a deeper appreciation for challenges faced by curators and managers of collections data. The goals of the workshop were to:

  • Discuss issues relating to scientific names encountered by curators while digitizing and curating collection data,
  • Produce a list of tools that might be available (or not) to solve some nomenclatural and/or taxonomic issues, and
  • Evaluate some of the tools on the list by applying them to participants’ collections data

Three presentations were delivered in the morning to set the stage for the afternoon’s activities.

Luc Brouillet, Curator
of the Marie-Victorin Herbarium and Professor at the Université de Montréal, described the spectrum of issues with the use of scientific names in collections.

Names from luc_brouillet

James Macklin, Research Scientist, Botany and Biodiversity Informatics at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, gave an overview of many names-based tools and services available for use by researchers.

David Shorthouse, Director of Biodiversity Informatics at the Université de Montréal Biodiversity Centre provided an overview of issues faced by aggregators of collections data and reviewed Darwin Core terms.

Have We Got the Names "Right"? from David Shorthouse

Participants in the workshop, many of whom arrived with data in-hand, elected to use Open Refine. We picked-up from the work Rod Page started a few years ago. Similar work has been done by Gaurav Vaidya and the VertNet team with superb documentation. The Canadensys development team tweaked Rod’s code to connect to web services offered by the Global Names Resolver and the Database of Vascular Plants of Canada, each of which are high-performance services that accept scientific names in batches and produce responses containing full namestrings and hierarchies. Rod’s code was an excellent first pass, but we noticed that it could be made much more performant so we made a temporary service for the workshop and a temporary code repository. The Canadensys development team is contemplating a dedicated Open Refine service for the Database of Vascular Plants of Canada (VASCAN) and we’ve shared our approach with members of the Global Names project. Do you use Open Refine and would you like a connector for VASCAN?