In January 2021, we started a new collaborative project that aims to address some of the major challenges for people working with sensitive and threatened species data.

Data for sensitive species is critical for researching and managing our threatened species and ecosystems. Currently, sensitive species data is hard to access, and the ways people access these data are different for all states and territories.

The Sensitive Species Data Pathways project (https://doi.org/10.47486/PS027), supported by ARDC, is the first project of its kind to involve every state and commonwealth jurisdiction, all relevant research infrastructures and data repositories, as well as peak community bodies working in the sector. 

The project started in January 2021 and will continue through to December 2022.

The Northern Quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus) observed in in Western Australia where it is considered endangered. © dan_mckenzie (CC-BY-NC 4.0 (Int))

What’s so special about sensitive species data?
Threatened and sensitive species information and data are central to meaningful research efforts and government policies on biodiversity, ecological systems, and the effects of anthropogenic and climate changes on our environment. They underpin key jurisdictional policies, programs and regulations, including those under the EPBC Act 1999.

Sensitive species data also form a central component of biosecurity legislation (Biosecurity Act 2015) aimed at managing risk to human health, trade, agriculture and the environment from the introduction of exotic species, viruses and pathogens.

We know from recent experience during the Australian bushfires of 2019/20, that access to species data across jurisdictional boundaries is critical to understanding the impact of extreme events on our environment. It is also essential for mitigation, planning and recovery efforts. People working in this area require datasets that include the full spatial and temporal information about target species. These datasets often reside in jurisdictional data repositories and are hard to access.

Current challenges in accessing data on threatened species
There are many challenges facing people researching and managing sensitive and threatened species in Australia. Here we mention two key issues which the project team aims to address.

Gouldian Finch (Erythrura (Chloebia) gouldiae) photographed in Queensland where it is listed as endangered. © Charmaine Thomas (CC-BY)

Access to data

At the moment sensitive species data is often managed locally without nationally consistent approaches to licensing and access. The data come from a range of sources that are public (primarily ALA) and restricted (jurisdictions, researchers, private). Access to restricted data can be sought, but the process is time consuming, and it’s not always clear who to approach, or how. A key focus for the project will be developing and implementing a National Framework to address issues such as licensing, access and authority, governance and programmatic standards.

Fuzzy wuzzy data

Obscuring or fuzzying threatened species data is a necessary practice to ensure vulnerable species are protected from poachers or habitat destruction and prevent unscrupulous researchers from accessing data. However, there is no nationally standardised way for obscuring precise location data. Each institution is reliant on internal or third party (state conservation agency or the Atlas of Living Australia) to fuzz data. Accidental data releases are an ever-present threat that manifests regularly. A national approach to fuzzing and un-fuzzing data will provide a vital risk-mitigation mechanism for protecting threatened species and research data.

The Sensitive Species Data Pathways project partners

We look forward to working with the following partners on this important project:

  1. Australian Research Data Commons
  2. Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (Commonwealth)
  3. Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (NSW)
  4. Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (WA)
  5. Department of Environment and Water (SA)
  6. Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (TAS) 
  7. Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (VIC) 
  8. Department of Environment and Science (QLD)
  9. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NT) 
  10. The Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (ACT) 
  11.  Western Australian Biodiversity Research Institute (WABSI)
  12.  Atlas of Living Australia, CSIRO
  13.  EcoCommons Australia
  14.  Pawsey Super Computing Centre
  15.  Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria
  16.  Council of Heads of Australian Faunal Collections

For more information on this project, please contact support@ala.org.au.

Sensitive Species Data Pathways project  DOI https://doi.org/10.47486/PS027