20 GB in 10 minutes: a case for linking major biodiversity databases using an open socio-technical infrastructure and a pragmatic, cross-institutional collaboration
PeerJ Comput Sci. 2018 Sep 17;4:e164. doi: 10.7717/peerj-cs.164. eCollection 2018.
Biodiversity information is made available through numerous databases that each have their own data models, web services, and data types. Combining data across databases leads to new insights, but is not easy because each database uses its own system of identifiers. In the absence of stable and interoperable identifiers, databases are often linked using taxonomic names. This labor intensive, error prone, and lengthy process relies on accessible versions of nomenclatural authorities and fuzzy-matching algorithms. To approach the challenge of linking diverse data, more than technology is needed. New social collaborations like the Global Unified Open Data Architecture (GUODA) that combines skills from diverse groups of computer engineers from iDigBio, server resources from the Advanced Computing and Information Systems (ACIS) Lab, global-scale data presentation from EOL, and independent developers and researchers are what is needed to make concrete progress on finding relationships between biodiversity datasets. This paper will discuss a technical solution developed by the GUODA collaboration for faster linking across databases with a use case linking Wikidata and the Global Biotic Interactions database (GloBI). The GUODA infrastructure is a 12-node, high performance computing cluster made up of about 192 threads with 12 TB of storage and 288 GB memory. Using GUODA, 20 GB of compressed JSON from Wikidata was processed and linked to GloBI in about 10-11 min. Instead of comparing name strings or relying on a single identifier, Wikidata and GloBI were linked by comparing graphs of biodiversity identifiers external to each system. This method resulted in adding 119,957 Wikidata links in GloBI, an increase of 13.7% of all outgoing name links in GloBI. Wikidata and GloBI were compared to Open Tree of Life Reference Taxonomy to examine consistency and coverage. The process of parsing Wikidata, Open Tree of Life Reference Taxonomy and GloBI archives and calculating consistency metrics was done in minutes on the GUODA platform. As a model collaboration, GUODA has the potential to revolutionize biodiversity science by bringing diverse technically minded people together with high performance computing resources that are accessible from a laptop or desktop. However, participating in such a collaboration still requires basic programming skills.