SA Museum Volunteers & DigiVol: speeding up the digitisation process

SA Museum Volunteers & DigiVol: speeding up the digitisation process

Earlier this month (11-17 May 2015) marked National Volunteer Week, a week dedicated to celebrating and thanking the 6 million Australian volunteers who spend their time enriching and improving Australia.

 

Australia’s biodiversity knowledge and conservation is strongly supported and powered by volunteers, with plenty of people choosing to spend their time in the great outdoors; improving, protecting, and promoting our unique ecosystems. Biodiversity volunteers aren’t just out in the bush though. Many help behind-the-scenes in our museums, galleries, herbariums, and collections. People from all walks of life are getting involved in the enormous effort to digitise the vast collections of records and specimens held by such institutions.

 

Worldwide, an estimated five million invertebrate species are yet to be described, according to the Numbers of Living Species in Australia and the World.  Invertebrates – animals without a backbone or vertebral column – are the most abundant group of animals on earth and yet they are the least documented. In Australia alone there are around 98,000 described species and an estimated 222,000 that are still unknown to science.

 

The South Australian Museum holds around two million specimens in its terrestrial invertebrate collection and around 1.75 million marine invertebrates. The Museum has begun a digitisation program to help address this backlog, and their doing this vital work using the Atlas of Living Australia and Australian Museum developed DigiVol portal.

 

To learn more about the efforts of the SA Museum volunteers and the importance of their work, click here.

 

Janet, a volunteer at SA Museum – creating a digital version of a physical record. Photo: SA Museum

 

While National Volunteer Week concludes for another year, the volunteering efforts to transform biological expedition diaries and specimen tags never ends. If you’re interested in getting involved, please visit our DigiVol volunteer page  and best of all you don’t even need to leave the house to join in the fun of transcription!

The Atlas of Living Australia encourages its users to complete a quick online survey on the features and functions of the website.

 

The Atlas of Living Australia website has been operating since 2010 and provides free, online access to a vast repository of information about Australia’s biodiversity. It supports research, environmental monitoring, conservation planning, biosecurity activities, education, citizen science, and the digitisation of millions of existing physical records around the country. The Atlas has over 54 million records on approximately 110,566 Australian species (as at May 2015 and growing rapidly), these records can be investigated through individual species profiles containing photos and collections data, and by using the mapping and analysis tools developed by the Atlas.

 

Fun Fact: the Australian Magpie is the most recorded species in the Atlas, with over 670,000 records - from sightings in the wild to preserved specimens.

Fun Fact: the Australian Magpie is the most recorded species in the Atlas, with over 670,000 records – from sightings in the wild to preserved specimens.

 

The Atlas of Living Australia would like to discover more about how the Atlas assists users to gain further information on Australian species and how the Atlas can improve for the future. An online survey has been developed to gain further insight into how you use the Atlas and an opportunity for you to provide the Atlas with some important feedback. No matter how much or how little you use the Atlas of Living Australia, we would like to hear from you – as an added incentive, you could win a fantastic Atlas of Living Australia prize pack, including your very own cap, t-shirt, and coffee mug!

 

Orange, white, and black is the new black! Complete the survey for your chance to win an ALA prize pack - a must for any wardrobe!

Complete the survey for your chance to win an ALA prize pack – a must for any wardrobe!

 

The information gathered from this survey will be critical to ensuring we can provide the highest level of information and tools to support our users, national research, our partners, and the future of Australia’s biodiversity.

To complete the survey click here. The survey will close on June 1st 2015.

The Atlas receives support from the Australian Government through the National Research Infrastructure for Australia (NCRIS).

 

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In November 2014 (during the World Parks Congress Public Festival ‘Planetfest‘) over 500 children, scientists, naturalists, and World Parks Congress participants from Australia and around the globe, gathered at Cathy Freeman Park to take part in the largest species audit of Sydney’s Olympic Park. The BioBlitz proved a success as one of the first major public facing citizen science events run by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

Citizen scientists worked together to find and identify as many species of plants, animals and other organisms as possible. They braved the Sunday morning wind and rain conditions, to help experts compile a census of species in Sydney Olympic Park spotting birds, spiders, insects, water bugs and a plethora of other species using the iNaturalist app on their smartphones.

224 observations were made during the blitz, with many of the invertebrate species identified being logged in that area for the first time ever. To find out more about the species spotted on the day check out iNaturalist event page.

A National Geographic film crew was there on the day capturing all the excitement and interviewing participants about their experience. Check out the video summary of the day below.

 

The Atlas of Living Australia supports a range of citizen science events and encourages people from all walks of life to join in on the fun of discovering and documenting the diverse forms of life in our diverse ecosystems.

For more information on this successful event, please visit the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage website.

Australian Citizen Scientists are busy (like bees!) documenting the spread of an exotic and invasive South African carder bee, Afranthidium Immanthidium repetitum. Through the great work of the BowerBird community, the Atlas of Living Australia has learnt that the known distribution for this species has increased significantly. From what was first recorded in Brisbane in 2000, Sydney in 2007, and recent records in Rockhampton and Albury lodged in late 2014.

South African carder bee, Afranthidium Immanthidium repetitum  Credit:  Laurence Sanders

South African carder bee, Afranthidium Immanthidium repetitum Credit: Laurence Sanders via BowerBird

 

Sadly, Ken Walker from the Victoria Museum has now confirmed a new sighting for the species: in Victoria. The species has well and truly crossed the state borders, and human transportation is the most likely cause for its spread, as explained in this Queensland Museum fact sheet.

 

Map built on the Atlas of Living Australia indicates the individual sightings (blue dots) of the South African Carder Bee recorded in the database.

Map built on the Atlas of Living Australia indicates the individual sightings (blue dots) of the South African Carder Bee recorded in the database.

The sighted bee was captured, recorded, and uploaded by a member of the public to the BowerBird website for identification on December 8 2014, from the suburb of Kew in Victoria.

The initial image of the male specimen was taken in alcohol, looking down one eyepiece of a microscope with an iPhone – an impressive photograph and certainly good enough for species identification (as there is no native megachilid bee in Australia with these distinctive yellow colour markings). The photographed specimen is now in the collection of Museum Victoria.

A remarkable photograph taken through the lens of a microscope with an iPhone camera; gives great detail, certainly ample for identifying it as the invasive South African carder bee, Afranthidium Immanthidium repetitum Credit: Jessica Baumann

A remarkable photograph taken through the lens of a microscope with an iPhone camera; gives great detail, certainly ample for identifying it as the invasive South African carder bee, Afranthidium Immanthidium repetitum Credit: Jessica Baumann

 

Unlike many other megachilid bee species, this bee does not nest in the ground or in wooden holes, but rather it makes a “cotton-ball like” free standing nest from “hairs” it gathers from plant leaves and forms its nest inside sheltered locations such as wooden boxes or window frames: making them a perfect candidate for human transportation.

Citizen Science is a very important source of data for Australian biodiversity knowledge. Data and insights gained through the efforts of everyday spotters can be as valuable as that obtained by scientists working in academia, natural history collections, government agencies and business. The new sightings of invasive pests uploaded by citizen scientists are a perfect example of how public knowledge and experiences with the environment around them can assist with issues of national importance, such as biosecurity.

BowerBird is supported by the Atlas of Living Australia and Museum Victoria. Records provided to and identified by BowerBird users are uploaded to the Atlas of Living Australia each week.

Fungimap is one of the largest citizen science groups in Australia and – with over 100,000 fungi records available online– is the biggest single contributor of fungi records to the Atlas of Living Australia (the Atlas).

Image of distribution of fungi records in ALA

Distribution of fungi records in ALA

Fungimap uses information gathered by volunteer observers across Australia, from professionals to amateurs, to map the distribution of target species of Australian fungi. The target species have been selected for their relative ease of identification and the fact that they are generally widespread.

Fungimap was founded by Dr Tom May, a Senior Mycologist at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, and has been bringing together fungi enthusiasts from all over the country since its humble beginnings in 1995.

“When I had the idea for Fungimap, I thought that a handful of field naturalists would contribute, and the mapping scheme would run for a couple of years,” Dr May said. “Almost 20 years later, more than 100,000 fungi records have been submitted, from almost 1,000 people and organisations from around Australia.”

Photo of Anthracophyllum archeri

One of the Fungimap target species, Anthracophyllum archeri, Orange Fan (Photo: Kevin Thiele)

Although Fungimap has been around for 20 years, it’s only recently that these important fungi records have been made readily available to a wider audience. Support from the Atlas in 2012 enabled Fungimap data to be delivered to the Atlas.

The Atlas funding also facilitated the incorporation of major data sets from individual fungi collectors – such as Genevieve Gates and David Ratkowsky, whose observation records number in the tens of thousands – into the Fungimap database, and on to the Atlas.

The collaboration between Fungimap and the Atlas continues, with the Atlas recently providing additional support for Fungimap to deliver a further 5000 observation records, along with images of 250 taxa. These additional records and images will help fill gaps in the fungi data available in the Atlas, benefitting both Fungimap members and the wider community.

“Having the Fungimap data in the Atlas is fantastic for the Fungimap community,” says May. “It’s rewarding for members to be able to easily view their own records, and the maps help identify gaps in fungi observations, which encourages people to go and look for more.”

Photo of Tom May receiving 2014 Natural History Medallion

Dr William Birch, President of the Royal Society of Victoria, presents the 2014 Natural History Medallion to Dr Tom May (Photo: SJM McMullan-Fisher)

May’s – and Fungimap’s – contribution to the understanding of Australian fungi was formally recognised late last year when May was awarded the 2014 Australian Natural History Medallion by the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria.

The Australian Natural History Medallion is awarded each year to the person judged to have made the most meritorious contribution to the understanding of Australian Natural History. Dr May’s contribution stems not only from his crucial role in Fungimap, but also from his scientific research at the National Herbarium of Victoria.

If you are interested in fungi, you can contribute to the Fungimap project by sending in records of any fungus you come across, either at home or in your travels. As so little is known about Australian fungi, all contributions are very valuable, even if you only learn to recognise a couple of species.

If you want to learn more about fungi, you might like to attend the Fungimap 8 Conference in April 2015, which will focus on building up people’s knowledge of macrofungi. Each day of the conference, participants will get out in the bushland around Batemans Bay to look for fungi, learn about them in their natural habitat, and make observation records that will be contributed to the Atlas.

Photo of koala in a tree looking down

What's the count so far?

The National Koala Count is an innovative, large-scale citizen science initiative developed by the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA), which runs every year from November 7-17. The aim of the count is to create a comprehensive picture of koala numbers and locations across the landscape by engaging communities directly in this once-a-year survey.

A unique GPS-enabled smartphone app, BioTag, allows for quick and easy recording of sightings. Any data that is collected is then fed into the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), where it complements existing records and is available for any organisation or researcher who needs it.

A web portal, www.koalacount.org.au, functions as a central repository for data and enables participants to view all of the records they have collected, as well as those gathered by other participants. ALA, a strong supporter of the count, provided all of the mobile apps and infrastructure for the website.

The annual count is proving a great success, with 308 people taking part in the 2014 survey and recording 1,161 koala sightings, a 54% increase in the number of records compared to the 2013 count. This increase is assumed to be due to the higher number of people who participated.

Close up photo of a koala eating leaves

Koala eating

A comprehensive report of the results has been released and distributed to koala researchers and land managers across Australia to help inform decisions about future conservation efforts. A copy of the report can be downloaded from www.koalacount.org.au.

The long-term aim is to repeat the survey annually so that changes in populations and the effectiveness of conservation efforts, along with the impact of events such as drought and fire, can be monitored over time.

If you would like to learn more about this exciting survey, visit www.npansw.org.au/koalacount. Or if you’d like to be kept informed about NPA’s upcoming citizen science projects register for NPA’s monthly enewsletter.

 

Two boys and a lady looking at long grass.

Why not get outdoors this November and help improve Australia’s biodiversity knowledge by joining a citizen science event? Credit: Sydney Olympic Park Authority

With summer almost here, now is the perfect time to get out of the house and enjoy Australia’s great outdoors. And what better way to do it than by joining one of the citizen science events that are happening across the country this November! Not only will you be out enjoying nature, but you’ll be making a valuable contribution to Australia’s biodiversity knowledge as well, with recorded sightings being fed into the Atlas of Living Australia(ALA).

Events include the Mimosa Rocks BioBlitz, which is taking place on the 7th and 8th of November; the World Parks Congress BioBlitz, which will be held in Sydney on Sunday November 16th; and the National Koala Count, which will run from the 7th to 17th of November.

The picturesque Mimosa Rocks National Park is located on the NSW south coast and is home to an amazing array of flora and fauna, including Potaroos, Glossy Black-cockatoos, orchids, and cycads to name just a few. The Mimosa Rocks BioBlitz will include 43 surveys hosted by expert scientists and naturalists. For more information, including what surveys are happening when and how to register, please visit www.alcw.org.au.

Large moth sitting on a person's hand

Just one of the beautiful creatures you might discover. Credit: Libby Hepburn

The World Parks Congress (WPC) BioBlitz is happening as part of PlanetFest, and, with the help of families and nature lovers, aims to capture a snapshot of the biodiversity at Sydney Olympic Park. Experts will take participants on guided nature surveys where they’ll go hunting for birds, insects, plants, frogs and water bugs. There will be hands on displays in the BioBlitz marquee, providing the opportunity to learn more about BioBlitz events and how they assist protected area managers to involve the public in scientific surveys. For more information and to register for the event, please visit http://wpcbioblitz.eventbrite.com.au.

Both the Mimosa Rocks and WPC BioBlitz events are using the international product, iNaturalist, to register sightings. These records will be incorporated into the ALA on a regular basis.

Two koalas sitting on a branch

Join the fun of the National Koala Count and help us better understand these furry friends.

And for those who aren’t in NSW, why not take part in the National Koala Count, which is open to participants across Australia. A freely-available, GPS-enabled smartphone app, BioTag, has been developed especially for the event by the ALA. The app allows participants to easily record their koala sightings anywhere across the country. BioTag is available for both android and Apple mobile devices and can be downloaded from Google play and iTunes, just search for BioTag. People who do not own a smartphone or tablet can enter their sightings directly into the National Parks Association’s Data Portal. To get involved, simply register at www.koalacount.org.au, download BioTag, or log onto the Data Portal, and you are ready to start counting!

By participating in any (or all!) of these events you will be helping to build a more comprehensive picture of the numbers and locations of Australian plant and animal species across the landscape, which is highly important for the effective management of our precious and unique biodiversity.

On October the 24th and 25th, the first ever ReefBlitz will be happening at Cannonvale Beach (just north of Airlie Beach) in Queensland.

Beach and esplanade of Cannonvale Beach, Queensland

The ReefBlitz will take place at picturesque Cannonvale Beach, Queensland.

Whether you want to be up at the crack of dawn for a spot of bird watching, take a late afternoon stroll to Pigeon Island to count sea cucumbers, or ramble over the rocky foreshore, ReefBlitz 2014 at Cannonvale Beach has it all. Sign up today for one of 23 surveys on offer to document the flora and fauna of Cannonvale Beach, stay for a presentation or interactive science display at basecamp or lend a helping hand in the beach clean-up. All ReefBlitz activities are free and are suitable for a wide range of ages.

Data from the ReefBlitz will be recorded using iNaturalist and will be integrated into the Atlas of Living Australia.

The ReefBlitz concept was developed by Earthwatch in partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

If you’re near Airlie and would like to participate, then register here!

People wading through coastal waters with coral in the foreground.

Join in the fun, and help improve our knowledge about Australia's biodiversity.

DigiVol is a collaboration between the Australian Museum and the Atlas of Living Australia that was initially an experimental foray into crowd-sourcing. At the time, the notion that there were online volunteers willing to help natural history collections capture their data seemed rather far-fetched.

An Australian Museum staff member inspects a tray of shells.

Credit: Melissa Graf © Australian Museum

It was definitely a risk: crowd-sourcing was in its infancy and there were no other museums providing online volunteers with an opportunity to help digitise their natural history collections. But now, DigiVol has not only become a means for Australia’s museums to tackle the enormous task of digitising their collections, but institutions like the Smithsonian, New York Botanic Gardens, and Kew Gardens have also chosen DigiVol to host their own virtual expeditions to digitise their collections.

As further proof of DigiVol’s success, we recently recorded two impressive milestones. Our volunteers at DigiVol Online have now completed over 100,000 transcription tasks, with some of our most prolific volunteers completing over 10,000 transcription tasks each. Also, in just two short years, DigiVol Lab volunteers at the Australian Museum have created over 70,000 images of the Museum’s very large Malacology (think molluscs, such as snails, slugs, clams, octopus and squid) collection. These milestones represent a monumental contribution to digitising the collections of museums and herbaria from Australia and around the world.

If you would like to learn more about DigiVol and these great achievements, check out the Australian Museum’s recent blog on the topic. Or if you’d like to get involved simply head to www.volunteer.ala.org.au. Happy transcribing!
Foundations for the future: a long-term plan for Australian ecosystem science was launched by the Chief Scientist of Australia Prof Ian Chubb AC last week in Canberra. The final document has arisen from the proposals developed through many ‘town hall workshops’ across the country, and these proposals also form the basis for its implementation. The Plan identifies six equal priority areas for action over the coming years:
  • Delivering maximum impact for Australia: enhancing relationships between scientists and end-users
  • Supporting long-term research
  • Enabling ecosystem surveillance
  • Making the most of data resources*
  • Inspiring a generation: empowering the public with knowledge and opportunities
  • Facilitating coordination, collaboration and leadership

*The PRIORITY Making the most of data resources is most relevant to the Atlas of Living Australia

“Sustained infrastructure and capacity for consistent collection, publication and archiving of ecosystem science data sets and meta-data in standard, easily accessible formats in publicly accessible websites. Australia needs sustained infrastructure and capacity-building  to maintain and facilitate the publication of and access to ecosystem science data. We can get better value from our collective data resources by properly describing and storing data in ways that enable discovery, access and re-use. Significant gains have been made in recent years, but there is currently no coordinated national strategy for collecting, storing and accessing core ecosystem science data across terrestrial, aquatic and atmospheric domains. Moving Australian ecosystem science to a position of open access to both historical and current data can enable research communities to build time series at a scale well beyond that which they could achieve individually. Synthesis, analysis and modelling of collective data will help to deliver essential outputs for government, industry and society.”

You can listen to Prof Chubb talking about it on Radio National at: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/drive/national-plan-to-protect-ecosystems-launched/5599308