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Title: Discovering ecologically relevant knowledge from published studies through geosemantic searching

item Karl, Jason
item Herrick, Jeffrey - Jeff
item UNNASCH, ROBERT - Nature Conservancy
item GILLAN, JEFFREY - New Mexico State University
item ELLIS, ERIE - University Of Maryland
item LUTTERS, WAYNE - University Of Maryland
item MARTIN, LAURA - Cornell University

Submitted to: Bioscience
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/1/2013
Publication Date: 8/1/2013
Publication URL:
Citation: Karl, J.W., Herrick, J.E., Unnasch, R.S., Gillan, J.K., Ellis, E.C., Lutters, W.G., Martin, L.J. 2013. Discovering ecologically relevant knowledge from published studies through geosemantic searching. Bioscience. 63(8):674-682.

Interpretive Summary: A tremendous amount of contextual information is embedded in published field studies, including the time at which the studies were done and often some type of location information. This information can be leveraged to improve knowledge discovery and increase the relevance of search results. Much of the published ecological research is tied to specific places, and increasingly, authors report geographic coordinates in their study area descriptions. This location information can be mined from published studies to populate a searchable geographic literature database. To demonstrate the potential of a geo-semantic search for ecological knowledge, we developed a web-based geo-semantic search tool using coordinate locations extracted from the study area and methods sections of recently published terrestrial studies in selected volumes of fourteen journals. Adding the ability to search for knowledge geographically as well as thematically (i.e., geo-semantic searching) could greatly increase the relevance of search results and open new avenues for research and application. Despite current limitations, it is clear that providing even a single location at the center of each published study would dramatically increase the value of the ecological literature for natural resource managers and policymakers, and improve the ability of ecologists to leverage existing studies. High-quality geographic data will promote the development of robust knowledge-discovery tools for the ecological sciences, expanding the relevance of ecological studies across disciplines to address important ecological challenges.

Technical Abstract: It is easier to search the globe for research on genes of a local plant or animal than to find local field research on that plant’s ecology. While internet applications can find the closest coffee shop, it is difficult to find where the nearest relevant research was conducted. As a result, ecologists are often unaware of published local research, and are unlikely to find relevant studies from similar environments worldwide. Location information in ecological studies can be harnessed to enable geographic knowledge searches, and could be standardized to make searches more fruitful. To demonstrate this potential, we developed the JournalMap website ( Easy access to geographic distributions of knowledge opens new possibilities for using ecological research to detect and interpret ecological patterns and trends, evaluate current ecological knowledge, and facilitate knowledge creation. We call on journals and publishers to support standard reporting of study locations in publications and metadata, and we advocate for geo-referencing of past studies.