A Random Categorization Model for Hierarchical Taxonomies

Scientific Reports
Guido D'AmicoMatthew Kleban


A taxonomy is a standardized framework to classify and organize items into categories. Hierarchical taxonomies are ubiquitous, ranging from the classification of organisms to the file system on a computer. Characterizing the typical distribution of items within taxonomic categories is an important question with applications in many disciplines. Ecologists have long sought to account for the patterns observed in species-abundance distributions (the number of individuals per species found in some sample), and computer scientists study the distribution of files per directory. Is there a universal statistical distribution describing how many items are typically found in each category in large taxonomies? Here, we analyze a wide array of large, real-world datasets - including items lost and found on the New York City transit system, library books, and a bacterial microbiome - and discover such an underlying commonality. A simple, non-parametric branching model that randomly categorizes items and takes as input only the total number of items and the total number of categories is quite successful in reproducing the observed abundance distributions. This result may shed light on patterns in species-abundance distributions long observed...Continue Reading


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