A national knowledge graph

An Australian Biodiversity Knowledge Graph

Taxonomists and others create, manage, organise and make available to a wide range of users an enormous amount of knowledge about Australia's biodiversity and its species, including knowledge of species distributions, their conservation status and needs, their appearance and how to recognise them, their biology and interactions with other species, with the environment, and with the economy and society. Our knowledge of biodiversity underpins our actions, from conservation and management to utilisation and the management of threats and opportunities.

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Taxonomists have been and remain early adopters of new technologies including new ways of managing data. A key present opportunity is to adopt new tools and technologies developed in the last decade, some of which are ideal for managing biodiversity information.

One key new technology in this space is knowledge graphs. A graph in this sense is a network of connected items of knowledge. Graph technologies and databases have been developed and deployed extensively by social media companies and internet giants such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter, to manage their vast networks of data - interactions and connections between people in social networks, and the interactions that drive our economy. These same technologies can also be used to manage the vast knowledge system that is taxonomy and biodiversity science.

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In fact, graph technologies are ideal for managing biodiversity data. This is because at the very heart of biodiversity science is a network - the tree of species and their relationships that taxonomists create, curate, manage and provide for others to use. Networks of data, such as the network of biodiversity data, are better managed using graph technologies than using older database technologies such as relational databases.

Knowledge graphs are also ideal information structures for the new and increasing powerful technologies centred on machine learning and computer reasoning and inference. Using knowledge graphs, these technologies are capable of providing new insights, making discoveries and highlighting linkages that were hidden even to those who assembled the data in the first place.

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A mission to discover and document all remaining Australian species in a generation will generate a vast new array of data, information and knowledge, adding to the already substantial knowledge accumulated in the past and being accumulated today. Our information systems need to be as fit-for-purpose as possible to deal with the expected influx of new data. Graph technologies are highly flexible, highly scalable and highly usable for this purpose, and their deployment will provide the key data and information needed to make the most of Australia's biodiversity and its opportunities, while ameliorating the many risks it faces.