Our Western Australian colleagues have kindly offered to host our next Science Symposium.
 
Make sure you save the date for the third ALA Science Symposium to be held on 11-12 May 2016 (with shoulder events to be scheduled for the 13th) at the Keiran Macnamara Conservation Science Centre, Perth (Kensington), Western Australia.
 
We will be putting out a more formal call for expression of interest, registration and submission of abstracts in the near future. It is expected to be very popular and places may be limited – watch this blog for the latest information.
 
Would you like to organise a session? Or have a special topic that you would like to see discussed?
 
We will have a Science Committee for the conference in place early in the New Year – but in the meantime send any ideas for topics to john.lasalle@csiro.au.
 
To avoid missing out sign up for email blog alerts.
 
When
Wednesday 11 May – Thursday 12 May, 2016
Shoulder events (TBA) for Friday 13 May
Where
Keiran Macnamara Conservation Science Centre
Perth (Kensington), Western Australia
 
John La Salle
Director Atlas of Living Australia

Point Comparisons

This option is presented as a quick way of comparing the environments of a few points. The alternative is to use Export | Point sample where environmental data is appended to an existing set of points, which are usually species occurrences, but can also be any set of points that have been imported. Point comparisons simply use mouse clicks on the map of a few points and the result is a display of those points (forming columns in the legend area) across all layers (rows in the legend area).

First, zoom and pan to the area of interest and then click on Add point. You can then edit the point or remove it from the list. Once you have defined your points, then simply click on Compare and the list of layer values will be displayed for each point. Given the limited area of the legend, only 9 or so points can be displayed. Once displayed however, the CSV file can be downloaded for analysis.

Comparing multiple points using environmental data

Comparing multiple points using environmental data

First rows of the downloaded point comparison file for two points

First rows of the downloaded point comparison file for two points

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A portion of the downloaded CSV file has been sorted for the difference between the first two sites just to demonstrate the type of analysis that can be done.

 

The Atlas of Life in the Coastal Wilderness will be running a BioBlitz in the Wallagoot catchment region near Merimbula NSW on Friday 4th and Saturday 5th of December 2015,  with a basecamp situated at the Bournda Environmental Education Centre.

BioBlitzes bring scientists, naturalists, and public volunteers (Citizen Scientists) together to explore and record biodiversity information and learn about local ecological communities. This two day event will have a schools program on Friday and surveys will be happening from before dawn to after dark. Bioblitzes are a great way to be part of large-scale environmental studies within an enjoyable community atmosphere, all while gathering important regional data that can be used for research and giving an opportunity to learn about our natural environment alongside the experts.

Scientists and volunteers working together to gather data and learn more about the ecosystem. Photo: courtesy of Atlas of Live in the Coastal Wilderness

Scientists and volunteers working together to gather data and learn more about the ecosystem. Photo: courtesy of Atlas of Live in the Coastal Wilderness

The Wallagoot catchment is predominately forest or woodland with cleared land for agriculture, the Wallagoot Lake itself is an ICOLL with seagrass beds and small areas of saltmarsh. There are large areas protected in the Bournda National Park and Bournda Nature Reserve as well as Bega Local Aboriginal Land Council land and property in private ownership.

Several endangered ecological communities and a number of threatened flora and fauna species as well as a number of invasive species can be found in the area. The Kalaru/Wallagoot area is rich in fauna values, especially for the Yellow-bellied Glider, Glossy Black Cockatoo, and threatened shore and water birds. The area is a wildlife corridor allowing species to move between more and less disturbed areas.

Glossy cockatoos can be found in the region. Photo: OzAnimals via ALA species profile.

Glossy black cockatoos can be found in the region. Photo: OzAnimals via ALA species profile.

If you would like to know how you can get involved with the Wallagoot catchment BioBlitz, please visit the website or event invite.

Data and records collected from this BioBlitz will be uploaded to the Atlas of Living Australia website and openly accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

The Australasian Systematic Botany Society Conference is being held in Canberra from the 29th of November until December 3rd and the theme is “Building our Botanical Capital”.

The Atlas of Living Australia is proud to be sponsoring the event and will be officially launching the new Phylolink tool. The Atlas will also be hosting a workshop and Dr Joe Miller (adjunct to the CSIRO National Research Collections Australia) will also be presenting his research on the evolution and phylogentics of the Australian plant genus Acacia (which utilised the Phylolink tool).

phylolink.ala.org.au

Phylolink allows users to explore biodiversity data from a phylogenetic (tree of life) perspective. Phylolink is a free, online, customisable research tool that gives users the ability to intersect a phylogenetic tree with species occurrence records, environmental data, and species character information for spatial mapping of traits, environmental profile plots, phylogenetic diversity calculations and more.

phylolink_promo

Phylolink is the result of collaboration between the Atlas of Living Australia and scientists at CSIRO, the Australian National University and the National Science Foundation (USA). Phylolink builds upon PhyloJIVE, which was developed by CSIRO, the Taxonomy Research and Information Network (TRIN), and the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research (CANBR).

The Australasian Systematic Botany Society (ASBS) is an incorporated association of over 300 people with professional or amateur interest in botany. The object of the Society is to promote the study of plant systematics. You can learn more about the ASBS on their website.

The Olkola People of Cape York, CSIRO researchers, and the Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre (TIEC) are working together; using the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) to explore ways to share and utilise knowledge to help care for country. The project is encouraging Traditional Owners’ aspirations to be on the country, with a  focus on delivering benefits to all parties involved. This ALA-supported pilot project intends to build on past and current efforts of the Olkola people to record and secure their cultural resources and aims to combine traditional knowledge with the western science currently available in the Atlas.

** This blog post has been produced with the Olkola Aboriginal Corporation **

In the first week of June, CSIRO researchers, Olkola elders and rangers, and Gerry Turpin from TIEC met on Olkola country together, at Killarney station, recording knowledge, sharing knowledge, mapping plants and animals and beginning to discuss what sharing information about country might look like.  The group was based at the Killarney station homestead where we camped and travelled from daily to visit story places on Olkola country identified by the rangers and the knowledge holders.

Mike Ross describing different places on Killarney station and their features to the CSIRO and TIEC visitors to their country.

Mike Ross describing different places on Killarney station and their features to the CSIRO and TIEC visitors to their country.

On the first day of our camp we talked about the pilot project.  CSIRO researchers introduced the Olkola rangers and knowledge holders to the ALA, and talked about how we would work together during the week.  Afterward we travelled to a nearby lagoon and to Maryanne Yard, where Brian and John Ross told us about some of the uses and preparations of cultural plants on their country.  The CSIRO researchers were introduced to Olkola traditional uses of the quinine tree, kurragong and the fine leaf tea tree.  The next morning we gathered together at the camp to reflect on what we saw and heard.  We talked about the plants and animals at each place, and discussed what knowledge sharing might mean, and what the risks and benefits for Olkola would be.  We repeated this exercise every morning before each trip out to visit places on country and record knowledge.

Some of the animals we were introduced to by Olkola elders included: freshwater crocodiles, a yellow spotted monitor, and many birds including the black breasted buzzard, the endangered golden shouldered parrots, white-bellied cuckoo shrike as well as the feral pigs.  Some of the birds and insects we saw were at sites where the rangers were burning on country.

Brian Ross describing how Olkola People use the wood of a tree to Gerry Turpin from TIEC.

Brian Ross describing how Olkola People use the wood of a tree to Gerry Turpin from TIEC.

On this visit, a few of the Olkola Traditional Owners were returning to their country after more than 20 years.  John, who was on the camp, was last in Killarney mustering for the station owner in the 1980s, when he was in his teen years;  he had not been to parts of Killarney previously.  He described his return as “real comfortable… this country belongs to my ancestors.   Now it’s all given back to us,  make(s) me happy here”.

Two more meetings are planned where CSIRO researchers will present their findings to the larger Olkola community, and a third meeting where Olkola people will decide what will be shared and if so, how they would like to represent their country.

The Atlas of Living Australia currently supports two Indigenous Ecological Knowledge pilot projects, learn more about their story from previous articles:

Indigenous Ecological Knowledge: The Olkola People

First ALA records of elusive Leichhardt’s Grasshopper in Arnhem Land

Returning to the Remote Country of the Ngandi People

Photo: Scott Mills via iNaturalist License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Photo: Scott Mills via iNaturalist License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

 

The Koala is one of the most recognizable and celebrated species in Australian fauna, inhabiting Eucalyptus woodlands and forests through out eastern Australia: from the SE South Australia across Victoria, Eastern NSW, and SE QLD. Koalas are one of the few Australian species that feed exclusively on Eucalyptus leaves and are partial to only a few gum tree species (not a highly nutritious or energy rich diet, hence all the sleeping!). The iconic Koala is celebrated in popular culture and are on the must-see list for almost every international tourist visiting Australia.

 

T-Swizzle, Oprah, Obama, Camilla, Harry Styles, Putin, MJ, and Mariah... Celebrities and dignitaries always ensure they get a Koala cuddle when visiting. (Images via Buzzfeed)

Celebrities and dignitaries always ensure they squeeze in a Koala cuddle when visiting. (Images sourced via Buzzfeed)

 

Unfortunately, Koala populations are being threatened by a number of factors including habitat loss (urban development, fire, and drought) and disease, including a highly infectious strain of Chlamydia; a sexually transmitted disease which can presents symptoms such as conjunctivitis and genital infections, causing individuals to be weak and vulnerable to other threats (predation, malnutrition, fire, etc.).

Across the Koala range of Australia; conservation groups, ecologists, wildlife organisations, national parks, and government departments are engaging in programs and methods to monitor, protect, and ensure Koalas continue to exist.

Bioblitzes and Citizen Science projects are a great way to get involved with Koala conservation and research, and the ALA supports a number of community projects which are happening RIGHT NOW! Below is a list of current and ongoing koala-focused projects:

 

KOALA COUNT 2015

National Parks Association of NSW

Koala Count 2015 is large-scale, national citizen science survey developed by the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA). The aim of the annual count is to build a comprehensive picture of koala numbers and locations across Australia. This year, they have have partnered with NatureMapr – an innovative public data collection software that brings together nature enthusiasts and conservation experts – to develop a new Koala Count app that makes data collection more robust and helps participants to record sightings more easily. The app is a free GPS enabled software that allows the user to upload sightings directly to the database. This data will then be uploaded to the Atlas of Living Australia.

Koala Count runs from 7-17 November 2015. For more information or to get involved, please visit: http://koalacount.org.au/

 

Great Victoria Koala Count

Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning

If you are in Victoria on November 7 2015, you can take part in the Great Victorian Koala Count, the Victorian Government Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning is calling on citizen scientists and Koala counters of the public to download the iOS and Android app to help count koalas on the day. Data collected from this event will be uploaded to the Atlas of Living Australia.

For further information on how to get involved and registration, click here.

 

Koala count-a-thon 2015

Redlands City Council

The Koala Action Group of SE Queensland recently asked members of the community to get out and about over the Oct 31 – Nov 1 2015 weekend to look for koalas in the Redlands area. The data collected from this event will be shared with the Atlas soon, in the meantime, you can learn more about this recent bioblitz here.

 

Tweed Council Koala Count

Tweed Shire Council

The Tweed Shire Council is actively involved in koala and koala habitat conservation initiatives. The Council has an ongoing Koala count program which can be joined here.

 

Friends of the Koala – Volunteers conserving northern rivers koalas 

Friends of the Koala Inc. (QLD)

Seen a Koala in the Northern Rivers region of Queensland? The Friends of the Koala Inc. group are always keen to receive a sighting, which can be registered here.

Koala Phascolarctos cinereus. Photo: David Iliff License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Koala Phascolarctos cinereus. Photo: David Iliff License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Of course, you don’t need to limit Koala-spotting and reporting activities to certain times of the year or programs – you can upload a sighting to the Atlas of Living Australia directly or you can search for a wide range of bioblitz and citizen science projects on our website too.

WeDigBio

WeDigBio, short for Worldwide Engagement for Digitizing Bio-collections, is a four-day global event taking place during October 22-25 2015, that will engage participants in transcribing biodiversity research collections. The public can join WeDigBio and scientists from around the world to transform biodiversity collections data into a worldwide resource that will enhance the span of biodiversity research across time, taxa, and geographies.

The WeDigBio event emerged within the museum community to increase the rate of digital data creation. This one-of-a-kind event will be held across 30 locations across the globe, but you don’t have to be at one of these locations to get involved.

Through the DigiVol portal, the Australian Museum will be joining in on the WeDigBio fun this year and they’ll be looking for volunteers online and onsite to join the blitz.

The Australian Museum has more than 18 million specimens hidden within its buildings. The labels that are attached to these specimens contain data that is important in the study of the diversity of plants and animals. Many of these specimens do not have a digital record attached to them, making this information unavailable to researchers and scientists, but with the help of Citizen Scientists these specimens are receiving the digitisation treatment.

For those in Sydney, you can join in the fun at the Australian Museum as they will be holding a free admission, onsite transcription event on Saturday 24 October. Bring your laptop and join the team for coffee and cake and an afternoon of transcribing, you can learn how to use DigiVol and explore other transcriptions sites from around the world. For further information and registration for the Sydney event please email: DigiVol@austmus.gov.au

 

I dig, you dig, We ALL dig Bio!

I dig, you dig, We ALL dig Bio! Photo courtesy of Australian Museum

Biodiversity data transcribed through the DigiVol is uploaded to the Atlas of Living Australia for future research use and to support biodiversity knowledge.

If you would like to get involved in WeDigBio online, please visit WeDigBio or DigiVol for further instruction.

From big Crocodiles in Cape York to Little Penguins in and around St Kilda, the biodiversity projects that incorporate tracking devices are providing highly valuable data on the whereabouts of wildlife on-the-move.

ZoaTrack researcher Hamish Campbell sends a turtle back to the wild with a tracking device attached to the shell.

ZoaTrack researcher Hamish Campbell sends a turtle back to the wild with a tracking device attached to the shell.

At the beginning of 2015, the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) took over the management of the free-to-use OzTrack application that facilitates the uploading, editing, analysis, archiving and sharing of datasets from animal tracking research projects. As part of the transition to the ALA, OzTrack has been re-released as ZoaTrack to reflect the growing international community of animal tracking scientists using the web-based application.  OzTrack was initially developed at The University of Queensland as part of a NeCTAR-funded collaboration between The University of Queensland’s Schools of Biological Sciences, the Environmental Decisions Group, and the School of ITEE eResearch Lab.  When the initial project ended, the ALA stepped in to ensure the continued development and maintenance of the system with the long term goal of integrating the toolset into the ALA’s suite, and ensuring the legacy of existing animal location datasets.

ZoaTrack researchers R. Dwyer (front) and H. Campbell (back) attaching a tracking device to a wild saltwater crocodile. Photo credit: Ben Beaden (Australia Zoo)

ZoaTrack researchers R. Dwyer (front) and H. Campbell (back) attaching a tracking device to a wild saltwater crocodile. Photo credit: Ben Beaden (Australia Zoo)

Animal telemetry studies generate a wealth of complex data issues with formats, map projections, timestamps, algorithms and calculations.  ZoaTrack’s goals are to make spatial analytics tools easily accessible, so that researchers can spend less time wrangling the technology, and more time on science.   ZoaTrack has a broad base of research organisations involved in both the user community and on the steering committee.  The site manages both terrestrial and marine data and has an impressive collection of datasets across many locations and species. Users have the choice to openly share their datasets, or keep their data under embargo for a determined period.  The software is all open source so is free to use.  Once raw data is uploaded, users can easily run commonly used home range estimation algorithms and generate heat maps. They can add environment layers, do velocity and trajectory calculations, as well as apply cleansing filters and tools. Data and results can be exported in multiple formats.

Studies using ZoaTrack can be easily investigated from the site and showcase some intriguing case studies, including tracks made by Koalas, Cassowaries, and Crocodiles.

A Cassowary wearing a tracking device - neatly attached to its leg. Photo credit: H. Campbell

A Cassowary wearing a tracking device – neatly attached to its leg. Photo credit: H. Campbell

During August this year ECOCEAN and the WA Department of Education used the ZoaTrack platform as an outreach and education tool to hold a Whale Shark Race. 12 tagged whale sharks were assigned to West Australian primary schools and monitored by the students to see how far they travelled within a couple of weeks. Students were able to use ZoaTrack to learn more about marine ecology research and conservation. View an updated mapping of the 12 whale sharks here.

A screenshot of the whale shark race: showing tracked movements between July 30 - Sept 14 2015

A screenshot of the whale shark race: showing tracked movements between July 30 – Sept 14 2015

For more information about ZoaTrack, please visit the website www.zoatrack.org or to learn more about how biotelemetry is useful in ecological studies, check out this blog from the key ZoaTrack developers.

The integration into the Atlas of Living Australia will ensure the continued development and servicing of the ZoaTrack system, enabling this facility to evolve in parallel with the telemetry devices and helping ensure the long-term legacy of existing animal location datasets.

The striking black and white patterned Magpie Fiddler Ray, has been long listed as one of South Australia’s rarest fishes, but there has always been doubt that this was a separate species from the more common and widespread sandy and brown coloured Southern Fiddler Ray. The colours and patterns were clearly different, but with just two other minor differences in their appearance, the scientific community had its doubts.

Visually different but what about genetically? Top: Southern Fiddler Ray specimen (SAMA F13961: Trygonorrhina dumerilii (Castelnau 1873)) Bottom: Magpie Fiddler Ray specimen (SAMA F13928: Trygonorrhina melaleuca Scott 1954)

Visually different but what about genetically?
Top: Southern Fiddler Ray specimen (SAMA F13961: Trygonorrhina dumerilii (Castelnau 1873))
Bottom: Magpie Fiddler Ray specimen (SAMA F13928: Trygonorrhina melaleuca Scott 1954)

Given that the Magpie Fiddler Ray is listed as threatened by the IUCN Red List, and immature male fiddlers are common in prawn trawl bycatch, it was important to clear this up. Clarifying whether it was a different species would have an impact on its conservation status and approach to management.

Conservation management of naturally rare or seldom encountered fish can be tricky, as documenting changes to abundance can be a challenging task. The Magpie Fiddler Ray was considered to be genuinely rare, not just hard to observe, because all known specimens were found in shallow waters of the well-populated and frequently trawled coastlines of the Gulf of St Vincent and Kangaroo Island.

DNA analysis would have resolved the issue once and for all. However scientists were thwarted by a lack of specimens suitable for DNA analysis and its apparent rarity as the Magpie Fiddler Ray was known, until recently, from only a single specimen deposited in the South Australian Museum over 60 years ago.

Scientists couldn’t wait 60 years for another Magpie Fiddler Ray to show up, so the South Australian Museum turned to the citizen scientist community for help. From 2001 it issued calls through the media and recreational fishing websites for people to watch out for specimens of this elusive but easily recognised species.

Those calls were successful, with two specimens and three new photographic records of the Magpie Fiddler Ray coming through from the recreational fishing community between 2001 and 2013. Surprisingly, most were from the Adelaide suburban coast and the Port River.

Magpie Fiddler Ray

A fisherman rarely catches a Magpie Fiddler Ray: on the line and in a photo! Photo courtesy of John Marsh

This gave the team enough material to work with. They used the latest DNA sequencing technology to compare the genome of these new Magpie Fiddler Ray specimens with 50 specimens of the Southern Fiddler Ray. They also analysed examples of the Eastern Fiddler Ray, to provide a ‘yardstick’ for the between species. All comparative samples were drawn from the South Australian Museum’s phenomenal Australian Biological Tissue Collection, the largest in the southern hemisphere, with more than 138,000 animal tissues available for genetic analysis collected over five decades.

Genetic analysis of the specimens showed very clear results. The Southern and Eastern Fiddler Rays were clearly highly distinct, and in contrast the two Magpie Fiddler Ray specimens were obviously members of the Southern Fiddler Ray gene pool.

Scientists simultaneously re-examined the appearance of these rays, including their shape, length and skin features but found no significant differences apart from the colour pattern. The strongly black and white pattern of the Magpie Fiddler Ray could be attributed to ‘leucism’, a condition that results in loss of pigmentation that isn’t uncommon in many kinds of fishes and other vertebrates.

And so the team was able to demonstrate that the Magpie Fiddler Ray, isn’t its own species at all, but is a colour variation of the common and widespread Southern Fiddler Ray. They published their results in the scientific journal “Zootaxa” in July 2015. Distribution maps of the Fiddler Ray species based on museum collection records from all over the country, are available through the Atlas of Living Australia.

Professor Steve Donnellan, Chief Research Scientist at the South Australian Museum’s Evolutionary Biology Unit commented that “this is the sort of science that museum researchers love doing, it involves interested members of the public to solve long-standing mysteries and of course we couldn’t do it without the efforts of many people over many decades accumulating invaluable specimens, tissues and records in our museums. It’s this sort of approach involving focused public partnerships that we like to use increasingly to solve issues in our fish research program.”

A team of Victorian researchers has analysed data extracted from over three million plant specimens to reconstruct the introduction of invasive plant species into Australia for the first time.

Invasive plants are estimated to cost the Australian economy over $4 billion a year through lost production and increased control costs.  They have also been linked to the extinction of several endangered species.  Understanding how invasive species are introduced into Australia helps put steps in place to prevent them getting here in the first place.

 

The first herbarium record of Arctotheca calendula (Cape weed) from Australia; collected at Fremantle in 1838 by Ludwig Preiss.

The first herbarium record of Arctotheca calendula (Cape weed) from Australia; collected at Fremantle in 1838 by Ludwig Preiss.

 

Australia’s Virtual Herbarium (AVH) brings together specimen data from many of Australia’s herbaria (specialised museums that house collections of dried plants, algae and fungi) and makes it freely available on the web, providing the most complete and up-to-date picture of Australia’s botanical diversity available.

Researchers from a joint project between the University of Melbourne and the Victorian Government used the data stored with each plant specimen to pinpoint where and when species were found in Australia for the first time.  By matching this with information about where else in the world the species was found, and what types of things people used the species for, the researchers were able to estimate the species most likely pathway of introduction into Australia.

 

The first herbarium record of Ulex europaeus (Gorse) from Australia; collected at Studley Park, Melbourne in 1884 by Felix Reader.

The first herbarium record of Ulex europaeus (Gorse) from Australia; collected at Studley Park, Melbourne in 1884 by Felix Reader.

 

“What we found was that the pathways of introduction have diversified substantially over the last 150 years.  In the early years after European settlement, we saw mostly grasses and legumes used for food or fodder arrive from Europe, whereas the species arriving now come from all corners of the globe for mostly ornamental purposes”, said Aaron Dodd, the lead author of the study.

Large-scale research projects like this one demonstrate the importance of expertly identified, specimen-based records for research and how this information can be used to inform areas other than plant taxonomy.  Such projects have only become possible through the recent digitisation of the physical specimens held by herbaria and the sharing of that information via portals such as AVH and the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA).

 

The first herbarium record of Echium plantagineum (Paterson’s curse) from Australia; collected at Deniliquin in 1897 by an unknown collector.

The first herbarium record of Echium plantagineum (Paterson’s curse) from Australia; collected at Deniliquin in 1897 by an unknown collector.

 

Research Links:

The original research described in the article is available from the journal Diversity and Distributions.