[tdwg-content] Definition of Individual (was Re: [tdwg-tag] Do terms in the http://rs.tdwg.org/dwc/terms/ namespace actually resolve?)

Steve Baskauf steve.baskauf at vanderbilt.edu
Wed Sep 1 17:33:20 CEST 2010

Well, my thinking on including small populations of individuals in the 
definition of the proposed dwc:Individual class 
(http://code.google.com/p/darwincore/issues/detail?id=69 and related 
issue http://code.google.com/p/darwincore/issues/detail?id=80) was 
simply based on practicality.  I know that collectors put bundles of 
grass individuals together on an herbarium sheet, bryophyte collectors 
have numerous moss individuals clumped together in a specimen, and 
entomologists put several individual insects of the same species 
collected at the same time and place together in the same jar.  I also 
take images that include several individuals of the same species (e.g. 
http://bioimages.vanderbilt.edu/baskauf/67323).  People collect 
different individuals at the same place and time and call them 
"duplicates".   In these cases, the person recording the Occurrence 
isn't interested (or perhaps CAN'T in the case of clonal plants where it 
might not be clear where one individual starts and another ends) 
separate out the individuals.  As I have conceptualized it, the purpose 
of being able to create instances of the class Individual is to be able 
to create named nodes that connect other resources.  I will not 
elaborate about that here because you can read about the idea in detail 
at Biodiversity Informatics 7:17-44 
(https://journals.ku.edu/index.php/jbi/article/view/3664).  But the 
point is that any entity that meets my definition of Individual can 
usefully serve as such a node.  If clarification is needed about what 
"Individual" means in a particular circumstance, another proposed term 
(individualRemarks) can be used to elaborate.

There are circumstances such as you brought up (queen vs. worker ant) 
where it would be better to describe the biological individuals as 
separate dwc:Individual's.  In fact, it would probably ALWAYS be better 
to have Individuals be separate biological individuals if it is possible 
to do so.  But in cases where it's not possible (or if somebody in the 
past chose not to do so, as in the case of duplicate specimens), 
allowing small populations to be considered as Individuals still allows 
the benefits of them sharing common identifications and linking those 
identifications to multiple Occurrences. 

There is of course the problem of "collections" of Occurrences where 
Individuals of different species end up together in the same resource 
(see the Conclusions section of the above paper), e.g. contents of a 
pitfall trap, an image showing multiple species in their habitat,  and a 
specimen with evidence of parasitism by another species.  I haven't put 
enough thought into how to handle these situations to suggest a 
solution, but it does not seem out of the question to define some other 
term ("conglomeration" maybe?  "bag" and "collection" are already taken) 
to connect an Occurrence resource to multiple Individuals.  This in 
itself is a strong argument for why determinations should be associated 
with Individuals rather than Occurrences.  In the model that I described 
in the paper, an Occurrence has an "individualID" property that connects 
the occurrence to its determinations via the Individual.  But that 
wouldn't have to be the case.  An Occurrence could have a 
"conglomerationID" property that would connect it to the Conglomeration 
resource and that resource could then have several "individualID" 
properties that connect it to the multiple individuals with there 
separate determinations.  Anyway, more thought needs to go into this, 
but the problem does not seem unsurmountable. 


Peter DeVries wrote:
> ...
> I am also wondering if the "individual" definition should be changed 
> to mean one individual organism rather than a potential collection of 
> individuals. Individuals from the same colony could be represented 
> using a separate related vocabulary. Allowing multiple
> individuals will cause problems for consuming applications. For 
> instance, is the queen a separate individual or not? How do you 
> differentiate between a photo of the queen vs. a photo of one of the 
> workers. There are also potential problems even if the individuals
> are all workers.
> I have been thinking that for some attributes like character states, 
> it might be best to have a family level ontology. In this example, you 
> might have a "formicidae_ontology", that could be used to deal with 
> individuals from the same colony as well as ant specific character states.
> xmlns:ant="http://rs.gbif.org/family_ontology/ant.owl#"
> <rdf:Description rdf:about="http://example.org/individual/123412">
>  <ant:colonyMateOf rdf:resource="http://example.org/individual/123414"/>
> </rdf:Description>
> This could be defined as a subproperty of dc:relation or something 
> similar in the gbif/tdwg vocabulary.
> - Pete
Steven J. Baskauf, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer
Vanderbilt University Dept. of Biological Sciences

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