GSoC 2017 : Biodiversity data cleaning

17 May

By Ashwin Agrawal

URL of the Project Idea:


There are an increasing number of scientists using R for their data analyses, however, the skill set required to handle biodiversity data in R, is considerably varies. Since, users need to retrieve, manage and assess high volume data with complex structure (Darwin Core standard, DwC); only users with an extremely sound R programming background can attempt this. Recently, various R packages dealing with biodiversity data and specifically data cleaning have been published (e.g. scrubr, biogeo, rgeospatialquality, assertr , and taxize). Though numerous new procedures are now available, implementing them requires users to prepare the data according to the formats of each of these packages and learning each R package. Dealing with the integration related tasks which would facilitate the data format conversions and smooth execution of all the available data cleaning functions from various packages, is being addressed in another GSOC project (link). The purpose of my project is to identify and address missing crucial functionalities for handling biodiversity (big) data in R. Properly addressing these gaps will hopefully enable us to offer a more complete framework for data quality assessment in R.

Proposed components

1. Standardized flagging system:

Biodiversity quality assessment is based upon a user capability to execute variety of data checks. Thus, a well-designed flagging system will allow users to easily manage their data checks result, and facilitate control on the desired quality level on one hand, and user flexibility on the other hand. I will assess several approaches for designing such a system, factoring comprehensibility and programming complexity.

Any insights and ideas regarding this task will be highly appreciated (please create a github issues).

2. A DwC summary table:

When dealing with high complexity and high-volume data, summary statistics of different fields and categories, can have an immense value. I will develop a DwC summary table based on DwC fields and vocabulary. First, I will explore different R packages dealing with descriptive statistics and table visualizations. Then, I will map key DwC data fields and key categories for easy faceting of the summary table. In addition, the developed framework can be used to enhance the flagging system, by utilizing it unique functionality to summarize the data quality checks results.

3. Outliers analysis:

Identifying spatial, temporal, and environmental outliers can single out erroneous records. However, identifying an outlier is a subjective exercise, and not all outliers are errors.  I will develop a set of functions which will aid in detection of outliers. Various statistical methods and techniques will be evaluated (e.g. Reverse Jackknife, Standard Deviations from the Mean, Alphahull).

4. Developing new data quality checks and procedure

I will identify critically missing spatial, taxonomic and temporal data cleaning routines, factoring users need level and programming complexity.  Ideas and needs regarding this task will be highly appreciated (please create a github issues).


Improving the quality of biodiversity research, in some measure, is based on improving user-level data cleaning tools and skills. Adopting a more comprehensive approach for incorporating data cleaning as part of data analysis will not only improve the quality of biodiversity data, but will impose a more appropriate usage of such data. This can greatly serve the scientific community and consequently our ability to address more accurately urgent conservation issues.


For feedback, suggestions please post them on github issues

GSoC 2017 : Integrating biodiversity data curation functionality

8 May

By Thiloshon Nagarajah

Any data used in data science analyses, either it be simple statistical inference-making or high end machine learnings, needs to meet certain quality. Any dataset has ‘Signal’ the answer we are trying to find and ‘Noise’ the disturbances and anomalies in the data. The important part of preparing data for any analysis is to make it easier to distinguish noise from data. In biodiversity researches,  the data can be very large in number. Thus there is high probability of having a lot of noise. Giving control to researchers on this noise reduction will provide a clean and tidy data. 

Biodiversity research is a huge spectrum. It varies from analyzing simple heredity, climate and Eco-system impacts on species to complex Genome Sequencing researches. So the requirements of data in each of these fields vary with the type of researches. Taxonomic researchers will be interested in taxonomic fields and not so in spatial or temporal aspects of the data. They will be okay with loosing spatial data in compensation for better taxonomic data. Whereas the spatial related researchers will be lousy on taxonomic fields but not on spatial fields. This application-specific control on cleaning and preparing data helps in having an immensely efficient subsequent processes. 

The gist of this project and it’s sister project (Biodiversity data cleaning done by Ashwin Agrawal) is to provide this customizable control over cleaning of the data. The cleaning and standardization is not done on the fly, it’s customized, tweaked and refined as per user needs. The controls for that will be given by our solution. The brief proposal of our solution is given below. For the full proposal, click here.



The importance of data in the biodiversity research has been repeatedly stressed in the recent times and various organizations have come together and followed each other to provide data for advancing biodiversity research. But, that is exactly where the main hiccup of biodiversity research lies. Since there are many such organizations, the data aggregated by these organizations vary in precision and in quality. Further, though in recent times more researchers have started to use R for their data analyses, since they need to retrieve, manage and assess data with complex (DwC) structure and high volume, only researchers with extremely sound R programming background have been able to attempt this.

Various R packages created so far have been focused on addressing some elements of the entire process. For example

Thus when a researcher decides to use these tools, he needs to

  1. Know these packages exist
  2. Understand what each package does
  3. Compare and contrast packages offering same functionalities and decide the best for his needs
  4. Maintain compatibility between the packages and datasets transferred between packages.

What we propose:

We propose to create a R Package that will function as the main data retrieval, cleaning, management and backup tool to the researchers. The functionalities of the package are culmination of various existing packages and enhancements to existing functions rather than creating one from the scratch. This way we can cultivate the existing resources, collaborative knowledge and skills and also address the problem we identified efficiently. The package will also address the issue of researchers not having sound R programming skills.

Before we analyze solutions, it’s important to understand the stakeholders and scope of the project.


Data Flow

Proposed Package:

The package will cover major processes in the research pipeline.

  1. Getting Biodiversity data to the workspace
    The biodiversity data can be read from existing DwC archive files in various formats (DwCA, XML, CSV) or it can be downloaded from online sources (GBIF, Vertnet). So functions to read local files in XML, DwCA and CSV formats, to download data directly from GBIF and to retrieve from respective APIs will be included. In case the user doesn’t know what data to retrieve the name suggestion functions will also be included. Converting common name to scientific name, scientific name to common name, getting taxon keys to names will also be covered. Further functions to convert to simple data frames to retrieve medias associated with occurrences will also be included.
  2. Flagging the data
    The biodiversity data is aggregated by various different organizations. Thus these data vary in precision and in quality. It is highly necessary to first check the quality of the data and strip the records which lacks the quality expected before using it. Various packages built thus far have been able to check data for various discrepancies such as scrubr and rgeospatialquality. Integrating functionalities given by such packages to produce a better quality control will benefit the community greatly. The data will be checked for following discrepancies

    1. In spatial – Incorrect, impossible, incomplete and unlikely coordinates and invalid country and country codes
    2. In temporal – missing or incorrect dates in all time fields
    3. In taxonomic – epithet, scientific name and common name discrepancies and also fixing scientific names.
    4. And duplicate records of data will be flagged.
  3. Cleaning data
    The process is done step by step to help user configure and control the cleaning process.
    The data will be flagged first for various discrepancies. It can be any combination of spatial, temporal, taxonomic and duplicate flags as user specifies. Then the user can view the data he will be losing and decide if he wants to tweak the flags. In times when the data is high in volume, this procedural cleaning would help user for number of reasons.

    1. When user wants multiple flags, he can apply each quality check one by one and decide if he wants to remove flagged data once he applies one check. If he is to apply all flags at once the records to be removed will be high in number and he has to put much effort to go through all of it to decide if he wants that quality check
    2. When user views the flagged data, not all fields will be shown. Only the fields the quality check was done on and the flagged result will be shown. This saves user from having to deal with all the complex fields in the original data and having to go to and forth the data to check the flags.
      If he is satisfied with the records he will lose then, the data can be cleaned.


    # Step 01
          %>% coordinateIncompleteFlag()
          %>% allFlags(taxonomic)
    #Step 02
    #Step 03
  4. Maintaining backups of dataThe original data user retrieved and any subsequent resultant data of his process can be backed up with versioning to maintain reproducibility. Functions for maintaining repositories, backing up to repositories, loading from repositories and achieving will be implemented.

Underneath, the package we plan to implement these:

  1. Standardization of dataThe data retrieved will be standardized according to DwC formats. To maintain consistency and feasibility I have decided to use GBIF fields as the standard. The reasons are,
    1. The GBIF uses DwC as the standardization and the fields from GBIF backbone complies with DwC terms.
    2. GBIF is a well-established organization and using the fields from their backbone will assure consistency and acceptance by researchers.
    3. GBIF is a superset of all major biodiversity data available. Any data gathered from GBIF can be expected to also be in other sources too.
  2. Unique fields grouping system for DwC fields, based on recommended grouping (see this and this)


We believe a centralized data retrieval, cleaning, management and backup tool will benefit the bio diversity research community and eradicate many short comes in the current research process. The package will be built over the course of next few months and any insights, guidance and contributions from the community will be greatly appreciated.


Please give us your feedback, suggestions on github issues

Mapping Biodiversity data on smaller than one degree scale

23 Feb

Guest Post by Enjie (Jane) LI

I have been using bdvis package (version 0.2.9) to visualize the iNaturalist records of RAScals project (

Initially, the mapgrid function in the bdvis version 0.2.9 was written to map the number of records, number of species and completeness in a 1-degree cell grid (~111km x 111km resolution).

I applied this function to the RASCals dataset, see the following code. However, the mapping results are not satisfying. The 1 degree cells are too big to reveal the details in the study areas. Also, the raster grid was on top the basemap, which makes it really hard to associate the mapping results with physical locations.


conf <- list(Latitude="latitude",
rascals <- format_bdvis(rascals, config=conf)
## Get rid of a record with weird location log
rascals <- rascals[!(rascals$Id== 4657868),]
rascals <- getcellid(rascals)
rascals <- gettaxo(rascals)

a <- mapgrid(indf = rascals, ptype = "records",
             title = "distribution of RASCals records",
             bbox = NA, legscale = 0, collow = "blue",
             colhigh = "red", mapdatabase = "county",
             region = "CA", customize = NULL)

b <- mapgrid(indf = rascals, ptype = "species",
              title = "distribution of species richness of RASCals records",
              bbox = NA, legscale = 0, collow = "blue",
              colhigh = "red", mapdatabase = "county",
              region = "CA", customize = NULL)



I contacted developers of the package regarding these two issues. They have been very responsive to resolve them. They quickly added the gridscale argument in the mapgrid function. This new argument allows the users to choose scale (0.1 or 1). The default 1-degree cell grid for mapping.

Here are mapping results from using the gridscale argument. Make sure you have bdvis version 0.2.14 or later.

c <- mapgrid(indf = rascals, ptype = "records",
             title = "distribution of RASCals records",
             bbox = NA, legscale = 0, collow = "blue",
             colhigh = "red", mapdatabase = "county",
             region = "CA", customize = NULL,
             gridscale = 0.1)

d <- mapgrid(indf = rascals, ptype = "species",
             title = "distribution of species richness of RASCals records",
             bbox = NA, legscale = 0, collow = "blue",
             colhigh = "red", mapdatabase = "county",
             region = "CA", customize = NULL,
             gridscale = 0.1)



We can see that the new map with a finer resolution definitely revealed more information within the range of our study area. One more thing to note is that in this version developers have adjusted the basemap to be on top of the raster layer. This has definitely made the map easier to read and reference back to the physical space.

Good job team! Thanks for developing and perfecting the bdvis package.


Creating figures like the paper ‘Completeness of Digital Accessible Knowledge of Plants of Ghana’ Part 4

13 Dec

This is the fourth part of the of the post where are going to create figure 4 Plot of Inventory Completeness against sample size for grid cells. Part 3 of this series we created chronohorogram for understanding seasonality by year of the data records.

If you have not already done so, please follow steps in Part 1 of the post to set up the data. Since this functionality was recently added to package bdvis, make sure you have v 0.2.9 or higher installed on your system.

The first step to generate this plot will be to compute completeness of the data. Package bdvis provides us with a handy function for that, as long as we want to compute the completeness for a degree grid. This was partially covered in an earlier blog post.

comp = bdcomplete(occ)

This command would return a completeness data matrix called comp and generate a plot of inventory completeness values (c) versus number of spices observed (sobs) in the data set as follows.


   Cell_id nrec   Sobs  Sest      c
 1 35536   3436   243   276.3514  0.8793151
 2 35537   4315   299   318.7432  0.9380592
 3 35538   518    152   187.4118  0.8110483
 4 35896   17148  320   343.9483  0.9303724
 5 35897   7684   300   338.8402  0.8853732
 6 35898   865    169   216.7325  0.7797632


The data returned has cell identification numbers, number of records per cell, number of observed and estimated species and the completeness coefficient (c).

The default cut off number of records per grid cell is 50, but let us set that to 100 so we can filter out some grid cells which are data deficient.

comp = bdcomplete(occ, recs=100)

The graph we want to plot is Inventory Completeness (c) against sample size for grid cells (nrec) and not the one provided by default.

plot(comp$nrec, comp$c, main="Completeness vs number of species",
     xlab="Number of species", ylab="Completeness")

Will produce a graph like this:



The problem with this graph is since there is very high variation in number of records per grid cell, majority of points having less than 5000 records are getting mixed up. So let us use log scale for number of records.

plot(log10(comp$nrec), comp$c, main="Completeness vs number of species",
     xlab="Number of species", ylab="Completeness")


Now this looks better. Let us change the x axis labels to some sensible values, to make this graph easy to understand. For that we will remove the current x axis labels by using xaxt parameter and then construct and add the tick marks and values associated.

plot(log10(comp$nrec),comp$c,main="Completeness vs number of species",
     xlab="Number of records",ylab="Completeness",xaxt="n")
atx <- axTicks(1)
labels <- sapply(atx,function(i) as.expression(bquote(10^ .(i))))


Not let us add the lines to denote the cut off values of completeness we want to consider i.e. higher than 0.5 as inventory completeness values for cells having number of records greater than 1000.

abline(h = 0.5, v = 3, col = "red", lwd = 2)


Now we may set the point size and shape to match the figure in paper by using pch and cex parameters. The final plot code will be as follows:

plot(log10(comp$nrec),comp$c,main="Completeness vs number of species",
     xlab="Number of records",ylab="Completeness",xaxt="n",
     pch=22, bg="grey", cex=1.5)
atx <- axTicks(1)
labels <- sapply(atx,function(i) as.expression(bquote(10^ .(i))))
abline(h = 0.5, v = 3, col = "red", lwd = 3)


If you have suggestions on improving the features of package bdvis please post them in issues in Github repository and any questions or comments about this post, please poth them here.


Creating figures like the paper ‘Completeness of Digital Accessible Knowledge of Plants of Ghana’ Part 3

22 Nov

This is the third part of the of the post where we are replicating the figures from a paper and in this part we are going to create figure 2 the Chronohorogram. Part 2 of this series we created temporal plot for understanding seasonality of the data records (Figure 1b).

If you have not already done so, please follow steps in Part 1 of the post to download and set up the data. Make sure you have v 0.2.9 or higher installed on your system.

To create a chronohorogram, is really very simple using our package bdvis.



Though the command has created the diagram, it does not look right. The diagram does not cover the range of all years, represented in the data. Since we have used command without many paramaters, it has used default year values for start and end. Let us check what is the range of years we have in the data. For that we can simply use command bdsummary.

Total no of records = 1071315

Temporal coverage...
 Date range of the records from 1700-01-01 to 2015-06-07

Taxonomic coverage...
 No of Families : 0
 No of Genus : 0
 No of Species : 1565

Spatial coverage ...
 Bounding box of records 6.94423 , -83.65 - 89 , 99.2
 Degree celles covered : 352
 % degree cells covered : 2.34572837531654


This tells us that we have data available form 1700 till 2015 in this data set. Let us try by specifying starting year and let package decide the end year.

chronohorogram(occ, startyear = 1700)


Looking at the diagram it is clear that we hardly have any data for first 150 years, i.e. before 1850, so let us generate the diagram with starting year as 1850.

chronohorogram(occ, startyear = 1850)


The diagram looks good except the points look smudged into each other, so let us reduce the point size to get the final figure.

chronohorogram(occ, startyear = 1850, ptsize = .1)


If you have suggestions on improving the features of package bdvis please post them in issues in Github repository and any questions or comments about this post, please poth them here.


Creating figures like the paper ‘Completeness of Digital Accessible Knowledge of Plants of Ghana’ Part 2

8 Nov

Continuing from Part 1, in case you have not done so, please set up the data as described before we try to make this temporal polar plot.

To create Figure 1b. Graph showing accumulation of records through time (during the year) we need  use function tempolar. This name ‘tempolar’ is simply a short of ‘temporal polar’. For this plot, we just count records for each Julian day, without considering the year. This tells us about seasonality of the data records.

Let us continue from the the previous part with code too, if if you do not have the data set up, please visit Part 1 and run the code.

First create just a very basic tempolar plot.


Now this created the following graph:

Basic tempolar plot

This graph looks very different than what we want to create. This is plotting the data for each day, but the plot we want is for monthly data. Let us sue timescale = “m” to specify monthly data aggregation.

tempolar(occ,timescale = 'm')

Now this created the following graph:

monthly temporal plot

So now this is what we expected to have as a figure. One final thing is to add a better title.

tempolar(occ,timescale = 'm', color = "blue",
         title = 'Pattern of accumulation of records
                  of Indian Birds by month')

final tempolar


Currently the tempolar does not have ability to display values for each month. Is that very important and needs to be added? We would like to hear form the users.

If you have suggestions on improving the features of package bdvis please leave comments Github repository.


Creating figures like the paper ‘Completeness of Digital Accessible Knowledge of Plants of Ghana’ Part 1

27 Oct

Recently I got to read the paper about Completeness of Digital Accessible Knowledge DAK by Alex Asase and A. Townsend Peterson. I really enjoyed reading the paper and liked the way the figures are presented. There is a lot of overlap of this with my work on package bdvis (of course under guidance of Town Peterson). So I thought I will share some code snippets to recreate figures similar to the ones in the paper using package bdvis.

Since I do not have the copy of the data in the paper, I am using data downloaded from GBIF website. I decided to use Birds data for India.

To create Figure 1a. Graph showing accumulation of records through time (years) we need to set the data in bdvis format and then use function distrigraph.


# Download GBIF data from data.gbif,org portal and
# extract occurrence.txt file in Data folder
occ <- read.delim( 'verbatim.txt',
                          quote='', stringsAsFactors=FALSE)
# Construct Date field form day, month, year
occ$Date_collected <- as.Date( paste( occ$year,
                                      occ$month ,
                                      occ$day , sep = "." ),
                               format = "%Y.%m.%d" )
# Set configuration variables to format data
conf <- list(Latitude='decimalLatitude',
occ <- format_bdvis(occ, config=conf) occ_date=occ[occ$Date_collected > as.Date("1500-01-01") &
           occ$Date_collected < as.Date("2017-01-01") &
           !$Date_collected) ,]
distrigraph(occ_date, ptype="efforts", type="h")

Now this created the following graph:


The graph shows what we wanted to show, but we would like to modify this a bit to look more that the Figure in the paper. So let us exclude some more data and change the color and width of the lines in the graph.

occ_date1 <- occ[occ$Date_collected > as.Date("1900-01-01") &
               occ$Date_collected < as.Date("2015-01-01") &
               !$Date_collected) ,]
distrigraph(occ_date1, ptype="efforts", col="red",
            type="h", lwd=3)

Now this created the following graph: