A knowledge-based system for automated discovery of ecological interactions in flower-visiting data.
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Studies on the community ecology of flower-visiting insects, which can be inferred to pollinate flowers, are important in agriculture and nature conservation. Many scientific observations of flower-visiting insects are associated with digitized records of insect specimens preserved in natural history collections. Specimen annotations include heterogeneous and incomplete, in situ field documentation of ecologically significant relationships between individual organisms (i.e. insects and plants), which are nevertheless potentially valuable. A wealth of unrepresented biodiversity and ecological knowledge can be unlocked from such detailed data by augmenting the data with expert knowledge encoded in knowledge models. An analysis of the knowledge representation requirements of flower-visiting community ecologists is presented, as well as an implementation and evaluation of a prototype knowledge-based system for automated semantic enrichment, semantic mediation and interpretation of flower-visiting data. A novel component of the system is a semantic architecture which incorporates knowledge models validated by experts. The system combines ontologies and a Bayesian network to enrich, integrate and interpret flower- visiting data, specifically to discover ecological interactions in the data. The system’s effectiveness, to acquire and represent expert knowledge and simulate the inferencing ability of expert flower-visiting ecologists, is evaluated and discussed. The knowledge-based system will allow a novice ecologist to use standardised semantics to construct interaction networks automatically and objectively. This could be useful, inter alia, when comparing interaction networks for different periods of time at the same place or different places at the same time. While the system architecture encompasses three levels of biological organization, data provenance can be traced back to occurrences of individual organisms preserved as evidence in natural history collections. The potential impact of the semantic architecture could be significant in the field of biodiversity and ecosystem informatics because ecological interactions are important in applied ecological studies, e.g. in freshwater biomonitoring or animal migration.