Boyle, B. L., B. S. Maitner, G. G. C. Barbosa, R. K. Sajja, X. Feng, C. Merow, E. A. Newman, et al. 2022. Geographic name resolution service: A tool for the standardization and indexing of world political division names, with applications to species distribution modeling S. S. Romanach [ed.],. PLOS ONE 17: e0268162. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0268162
Massive biological databases of species occurrences, or georeferenced locations where a species has been observed, are essential inputs for modeling present and future species distributions. Location accuracy is often assessed by determining whether the observation geocoordinates fall within the boundaries of the declared political divisions. This otherwise simple validation is complicated by the difficulty of matching political division names to the correct geospatial object. Spelling errors, abbreviations, alternative codes, and synonyms in multiple languages present daunting name disambiguation challenges. The inability to resolve political division names reduces usable data, and analysis of erroneous observations can lead to flawed results. Here, we present the Geographic Name Resolution Service (GNRS), an application for correcting, standardizing, and indexing world political division names. The GNRS resolves political division names against a reference database that combines names and codes from GeoNames with geospatial object identifiers from the Global Administrative Areas Database (GADM). In a trial resolution of political division names extracted from >270 million species occurrences, only 1.9%, representing just 6% of occurrences, matched exactly to GADM political divisions in their original form. The GNRS was able to resolve, completely or in part, 92% of the remaining 378,568 political division names, or 86% of the full biodiversity occurrence dataset. In assessing geocoordinate accuracy for >239 million species occurrences, resolution of political divisions by the GNRS enabled the detection of an order of magnitude more errors and an order of magnitude more error-free occurrences. By providing a novel solution to a significant data quality impediment, the GNRS liberates a tremendous amount of biodiversity data for quantitative biodiversity research. The GNRS runs as a web service and is accessible via an API, an R package, and a web-based graphical user interface. Its modular architecture is easily integrated into existing data validation workflows.