Beware of the hierarchy — An analysis of ontology evolution and the materialisation impact for biomedical ontologies

R. Pernisch, D. Dell'Aglio, A. Bernstein

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


© 2021 The Author(s)Ontologies are becoming a key component of numerous applications and research fields. But knowledge captured within ontologies is not static. Some ontology updates potentially have a wide ranging impact; others only affect very localised parts of the ontology and their applications. Investigating the impact of the evolution gives us insight into the editing behaviour but also signals ontology engineers and users how the ontology evolution is affecting other applications. However, such research is in its infancy. Hence, we need to investigate the evolution itself and its impact on the simplest of applications: the materialisation. In this work, we define impact measures that capture the effect of changes on the materialisation. In the future, the impact measures introduced in this work can be used to investigate how aware the ontology editors are about consequences of changes. By introducing five different measures, which focus either on the change in the materialisation with respect to the size or on the number of changes applied, we are able to quantify the consequences of ontology changes. To see these measures in action, we investigate the evolution and its impact on materialisation for nine open biomedical ontologies, most of which adhere to the EL++ description logic. Our results show that these ontologies evolve at varying paces but no statistically significant difference between the ontologies with respect to their evolution could be identified. We identify three types of ontologies based on the types of complex changes which are applied to them throughout their evolution. The impact on the materialisation is the same for the investigated ontologies, bringing us to the conclusion that the effect of changes on the materialisation can be generalised to other similar ontologies. Further, we found that the materialised concept inclusion axioms experience most of the impact induced by changes to the class inheritance of the ontology and other changes only marginally touch the materialisation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100658
JournalJournal of Web Semantics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes


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