The Atlas of Living Australia has just released its mid-session report to partners; providing a summary of the  project’s components and activities since 2007. In brief, the ALA has now delivered its core infrastructure and a range of powerful new tools, including new software for recording and managing biodiversity data and photos in the field. The ALA has brought together data, images and other resources from the national collections to support taxonomic research on Australia’s unique biodiversity. The ALA also serves as a critically‐important spatial data set for researchers and others needing to explore and analyse the recorded distribution of native and introduced species in Australia. People and organisations around the country are using the Atlas as part of their work on research projects, urban biodiversity surveys, museum outreach activities, science education, biosecurity monitoring, and natural resource management and reporting. 

The ALA project has addressed many aspects of managing biodiversity data, but the combined result of so many partners working together is something much greater.  As a result, the Atlas has delivered foundational infrastructure allowing for national‐scale collaboration. Australia now has significant infrastructure both to generate and to manage its biodiversity data into the future as well as providing Australian researchers with world-class tools for exploring these data. This same infrastructure allows interested amateurs and the public to contribute to our knowledge of the fauna and flora and includes tools that allow these groups to assist with the databasing of historical specimens.

These foundations will ensure that future work in digitising Australian natural history collections and in conducting field surveys will deliver data of immediate benefit to taxonomy, ecological research, pest response, conservation and land‐use planning.

The report can be downloaded from









GBIF data help clarify links between environment and species composition

Study used over 300,000 mammal records from US to assess importance of climate, land cover on species presence at various scales

MEDIA RELEASE: For immediate release 11 November 2011.

Copenhagen, Denmark — Analysis of a massive set of mammal data accessed through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) Data Portal has helped quantify the influence of various environmental factors on which species are present in a particular area.

A team of Israeli scientists based at the Technion Institute, Haifa, used all available mammal occurrence records with detailed coordinates in the ‘lower 48’ states of the continental United States. Some 308,000 records of 284 species, from 70 datasets published through the GBIF network to global standards, were mapped against a number of environmental variables at ten spatial scales, ranging in resolution from 20 sq km to 10,000 sq km ‘grain’ size, and from 20,000 sq km to 10m sq km in extent.

The results, published in PLoS One, suggest that at the larger scale and coarser resolution, climate is the biggest factor influencing the composition of mammal species communities, while land use and land cover (human uses and natural vegetation types) become increasingly important at smaller scales and higher resolution.

While much previous research has examined species richness – the sheer number of species in a particular area – the Technion team believes this is the largest study of its kind to look at what determines ’species composition’, in other words which species are present as well as how many. It built on earlier research from the same team published in Diversity and Distributions journal, validating the use of presence-only data, of the kind published through GBIF, for this type of analysis.

Lead author Rafi Kent explains: “In every location that we were looking at, we made a list of all the species that were there. Rather than just count them we used the identity of species. “We wanted to see whether there is a link between variation in environmental conditions and variation in species composition, and we wanted to do it over several spatial scales and large spatial extents.”

Kent says that the results were expected: that over larger areas it is factors such as temperature and rainfall that mainly determine which species are present, while at the more local scale, species composition is influenced more by the presence of forest, urban development, agriculture and other variables in land use and cover.

“It was expected according to the theory, but this is the first time that anyone actually showed it quantitatively and empirically over very large spatial scales. This is the novelty of the research,” Kent argues. The team believes the study has very important implications for conservation, because it advances the understanding of how species interact with their environment over large scales – crucial, for example, in designing protected area policies and wildlife corridors.

“The study would not be possible if we did not have such free access to the data as provided by the GBIF portal,” Kent adds. “We used over 300,000 occurrence records of mammals in the United States which is a huge database, not available in any other form than through GBIF. Collecting those data separately from each of the data publishers that are connected through GBIF would be, although not impossible, unfeasible. The GBIF portal creates opportunities for studies that simply would not be possible otherwise.”

The study’s co-authors were Avi Bar-Massada of the Deparment of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin, Madison and Yohay Carmel of the Technion Institute. The project was funded by the Israel Science Foundation.

For more information, please contact:

For Technion Institute:
Rafi Kent

For GBIF Secretariat: Tim Hirsch

The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) was set up by governments in 2001 to encourage free and open access to biodiversity data, via the Internet. With a secretariat in Copenhagen, its current participants include 57 national governments and 47 international organizations and economies. Some 300 million primary biodiversity records (records of the occurrence of named organisms) have been mobilised via the GBIF data portal ( from more than 9,000 datasets held by over 300 data publishers. The data are used in a variety of scientific and policy applications, including predicting the spread of invasive alien species, projecting the impacts of climate change, maintaining the genetic diversity of crops and identifying priority areas for conservation.

The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) is sorry to announce the sad news that two of our close overseas colleagues in biodiversity informatics have passed away unexpectedly in recent weeks.

Professor Frank A Bisby (1945 – 2011), from Reading, UK.
Larry Speers (1949 – 2011), from Ontario, Canada.

Many of us involved in the ALA have worked closely with these men over the years and are saddened by their passing.

Professor Frank A Bisby

Professor Frank Bisby

Frank Bisby was the first Chair of the Taxonomic Databases Working Group (TDWG, and remained active in the organisation until his death. Frank led a series of significant projects to use databases and web technologies to support taxonomy, including the International Legume Database and Information Service (ILDIS, – an early and significant, and continuing, project to use information technology to develop a global information resource for a major group of plants. He was also the Executive Director for Species 2000, based at the University of Reading, UK. Species 2000 is a partner with ITIS in developing the Catalogue of Life – a global species database in use by hundreds of projects around the world. Frank’s energy helped to ensure that these projects succeeded in their goals and attracted the long-term funding required to maintain a significant database.

Frank had just attended the annual TDWG conference in New Orleans with his friends and colleagues in biodiversity informatics and was attending further nomenclatural meetings when he passed away.

Larry Speers

Larry Speers

Larry Speers worked for Agriculture Canada, where he was involved in developing a national database from butterfly specimens. His experience with databasing natural history collections led to his appointment as the first GBIF Programme Officer for the Digitisation of Natural History Collections, based at the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF, Secretariat in Copenhagen, Denmark. In this position, Larry was instrumental in helping to establish many of the standards and best practices which continue to underpin GBIF’s global activities in managing biodiversity data as well as the ALA’s approach to handling such data.

Greatly missed

Frank Bisby and Larry Speers both contributed greatly to the enthusiasm with which natural history collections and the taxonomic community around the world have adopted databases and web technologies as a core component of their work. Without their efforts, the ALA would not have been able to achieve so much over the last few years. We will miss them both.