Atlas of Living Australia Open access to Australia’s biodiversity data Mon, 23 Nov 2020 01:03:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Atlas of Living Australia 32 32 ALA Newsletter November 2020 Mon, 23 Nov 2020 01:03:14 +0000

ALA Newsletter November 2020

New improvements to ALA data quality filters Sun, 22 Nov 2020 22:55:16 +0000
ALA Data Quality Project icon

Since the project launch in February this year the Data Quality project team has been working with the ALA user community to identify data quality related issues and develop solutions.  Thank you to everyone who completed our surveys, contributed to our understanding of the baseline perceptions of data quality, helped to prioritise the issues, and tested solutions. 

Prioritisation survey results 

After establishing a baseline for perceptions of data quality (see results), we conducted a prioritisation survey to identify which issues the data quality project address first. The top two issues identified were: 

  • Users of the ALA are using data accessed via the ALA without filtering out records that are not fit for purpose. 
  • I don’t know whether to use particular records or datasets for my purpose because quality indicators are not visible, or I don’t understand what the information means. 

Data Quality project first release – improvements to data filters  

In response to the issues above, the project developed a new capability to pre-filter search results so that lower quality records (such as those with incomplete or inconsistent data) are not shown unless they are actively included. 

The filters can be seen in a new Data Profile section above the search results. 

The new release enables users to switch filters on or off and manage them as a group or individually. Information is available on the fields and data that make up the filters through mouse-over text and clickable info icons (i).   

To get involved, join beta testing of the new Data profiles feature.  

To learn more about the new data filter features, read Getting started with the Data profiles 

For more information on the data quality project please visit the Data Quality project page or contact us at

Guest editorial: ALA newsletter November 2020 Sun, 22 Nov 2020 22:42:06 +0000 It’s a pleasure to be invited to provide this guest editorial to help celebrate the Atlas of Living Australia’s 10th anniversary.

The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) was developed in 2010 to support the needs of the national and international research community for timely access to Australian biodiversity data. In this time, it has grown into one of the world’s foremost biodiversity infrastructures and leads Australia’s commitment to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

The Australian biodiversity information community, partnering with the Australian Government through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), should be proud of our national and global achievements. One of many remarkable achievements is the international Living Atlases community. This now delivers science impact globally through 27 national atlases built on ALA-developed infrastructure, shared Australian capability and knowledge.

The museum and herbaria communities were fundamental to the origins of the Atlas of Living Australia. Image: Australian Tree Seed Centre CSIRO Canberra

In this anniversary year, it’s timely to reflect on the history of the ALA. Its origins owe much to the vision, commitment and partnerships that were already in place in the museums, collections and herbaria sectors and we are proud to be part of this story. In the late 1990s, the peak body for herbaria in the region, the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria (CHAH) formed a consortium with the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS) to digitise and database specimens resulting in the Australasian Virtual Herbarium (AVH).

The museum community has a similar story. The zoological collections formed the Council of Heads of Australian Faunal Collections (CHAFC) in 1992 with a national viewpoint on museum-held biodiversity data issues, an exchange of ideas and interactions with ABRS and Environmental Information Resources Network within what is now the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment. Following the success of the AVH, CHAFC sought to improve the sharing of data through then newly evolving web technology. This resulted in the Online Zoological Collections of Australian Museums, or OZCAM in 2002.

The establishment of the ALA owes its foundation to the prior existence of AVH and OZCAM and this history runs deep in the architecture of the ALA. More importantly the strength of these existing networks, partnerships and governance models provided a sound foundation for accelerating the vision under the newly formed NCRIS program in 2007.

From its origins in the collections sector, the ALA has astutely expanded its remit to broaden the portfolio of data and services it offers Australian science and decision-making. The inclusion of biodiversity data from state government agencies, major research programs and its support of the citizen sector has significantly improved our understanding of Australia’s biodiversity.

The events we’ve witnessed in 2020 provide a timely reminder of the criticality of maintaining a comprehensive, representative and adequate national biodiversity infrastructure. It is fundamental to improving our understanding of the impact of current and future bushfires and other environmental threats, on biodiversity and supporting ensuing restoration efforts. It provides fundamental data to help understand the global behaviour of zoonotic diseases and their role in future pandemics, and it can position Australia to more effectively deal with biosecurity risks that impact our environment and economy.

Reflecting on the strategic priorities for our sector –  for example around higher throughput digitisation of our collections and the rapid growth in genomics-based methods in biodiversity sciences –  we believe we are extremely well placed to grow and evolve to meet these challenges through our ongoing partnerships with the ALA.

In closing, we acknowledge the significant vision and contribution made through the Australian Government’s NCRIS program in realising the ALA vision, and the partnerships that have been so fundamental to its success. This includes the thought leaders, the data partners and ALA’s institutional supporters that can rightfully be proud of what Australia has achieved.

Cameron Slatyer
Branch Manager | Life and Geosciences
Australian Museum Research Institute, Science and Learning, Australian Museum 

Professor Darren Crayn
Australian Tropical Herbarium

Federal Budget announcement 2020 Sun, 22 Nov 2020 22:17:24 +0000

As an outcome from the recent Federal Budget, the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) had positive news with $96 million secured for the 2022-23 financial year for current projects. $61 million was also provided for four new national research capabilities including Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) and Indigenous eResearch data tools and platforms. This is a positive signal regarding the importance of the NCRIS program as a core capability supporting Australia’s research sector.

Celebrating 10 years of science impact Mon, 16 Nov 2020 03:56:08 +0000
Illustration showing research publications

The ALA brings together occurrence record data, taxonomic information, spatial and historical information on species distributions, and environmental data. These data are central to the research areas of ecology, conservation, environmental planning, Indigenous ecological management and sustainability.

The ALA’s contribution to the research output in these fields has steadily increased over the last 10 years. Now over 2,300 scientific publications have referenced the ALA, providing novel contributions to a range of fields.

Researchers have used data from ALA to show changes in Platypus numbers over the last 150 years, identify rare species that thrive in Australian towns and cities, and understand complex migration behaviour in insects that would otherwise go undetected. Images stored by the ALA have even been used to build apps that can automatically identify Australian insects in the field.

As our data holdings continue to grow, researchers continue finding new ways to draw on ALA in their research, bettering the understanding of Australia’s unique biodiversity. Now, you can search and browse some of this research through our new webpage, ALA-cited publications.

If you are a researcher and use the ALA to access data or analytical tools, read How to cite the ALA for more detail on best practices for citing and acknowledging the ALA.

Ten years of the ALA

Ten years ago, Australian national collections, science organisations, and government agencies saw the opportunity for a national online and open data repository for biodiversity data. The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) was established with funding from the Australian Government’s National Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) to fulfill this role and aggregate Australia’s biodiversity data.

“The ALA has changed the way biodiversity research and environmental decision making occurs in Australia,” said ALA Director Dr Andre Zerger.

“We now have over 90 million occurrence records and function as the most comprehensive dataset on Australian biodiversity. The ALA has over 78,000 registered users and access to 700 datasets from data partners across research, government and citizen science.” he said.

Built on partnerships

Central to the success of the ALA are the contributions from our data partners. They are the backbone of the ALA, providing authoritative data for species names and classification, geospatial reference data, environmental layers, and species occurrence data.

“The work of the organisations and institutions that provide data, and manage, curate and update that data, underpins our success and we look forward to continuing and growing these partnerships over another ten years,” said Andre.

The diverse datasets all contribute to the rich tapestries of data that are accessible via the ALA, and enable the ALA to perform like a window into the complex world of biodiversity science.

National and global reach

The ALA not only delivers Australia’s biodiversity data at a national level, it also contributes to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), an international network and data infrastructure funded by the world’s governments to provide open access to data about all types of life on Earth.

“Through the GBIF living atlases community, the infrastructure our team first developed 10 years ago is now being used by 27 countries around the world to manage their biodiversity data,” said Andre.

The ALA is the Australian node of GBIF and has significantly contributed to this global network for open biodiversity data access.

More information

Data in the ALA: bushfire affected areas (2019-2020 bushfire season) Wed, 30 Sep 2020 00:09:11 +0000
Image by Teresa Bealey (CC-BY-NC-4.0) submitted to the University of New South Wales’ Environment Recovery Project: Australian Bushfires 2019-2020 on iNaturalist Australia.

This dataset shows all areas of Australia affected by the 2019-2020 bushfires. You can use this data in the ALA to search for species that may have been affected by the 2019-20 bushfires, by mapping occurrence records that have been logged in those areas, both before and after the fires.

How to use the bushfire extent data in the ALA

For more information on how to use this data in the ALA, read our help article Using the National Indicative Aggregated Fire Extent Dataset 2019-20 in the ALA.

The National Indicative Aggregated Fire Extent Dataset

The National Indicative Aggregated Fire Extent Dataset was developed by the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) to help quantify the potential impacts of the 2019/20 bushfires on wildlife, plants and ecological communities, and identify appropriate response and recovery actions.

The dataset is a reliable, agreed, fit-for-purpose and repeatable national dataset of burnt areas across Australia for the 2019/20 bushfire season.

The National Indicative Aggregated Fire Extent Dataset includes:

  • data from the national Emergency Management Spatial Information Network Australia (EMSINA) data service, which is the official fire extent currently used by the Australian Government, and
  • supplementary data from other sources to form a cumulative national view of fire extent from 1 July 2019 to the 21 April 2020, these sources include NSW Rural Fire Service, Northern Australian Fire Information (NAFI), QLD Fire and Emergency Service, QLD Department of Environment and Science, SA Country Fire Service, SA Department for Environment and Water, Tasmanian Fire Service, TAS Department of Primary Industry, Parks, Water and Environment, VIC Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning, WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.

The dataset is released on behalf of the Australian Government and endorsed by the National Burnt Area Dataset Working Group, convened by the National Bushfire Recovery Agency.

More information and links

National Science Week 2020 Fri, 14 Aug 2020 05:49:00 +0000

Check out these National Science Week events being run by our partners and collaborators across the country. There are many opportunities to explore science, attend online events and make real contributions to Australian science.

South Australian Museum Podcast: Collection Stories

South Australian Museum
First podcast episode available Friday 21 August

Collection Stories will be the South Australian Museum’s first ever podcast series featuring stories about their collections.

Over the course of four episodes listeners will hear firsthand from museum professionals about why museums keep things, what types of things they collect, what we learn from them, how they care from them, and how they share them with the wider public.

Each free 30 minute episode will feature Museum researchers and collection managers in conversation sharing stories about objects drawn from the Museum’s vast collections.

The Science of the Black Box

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
Thursday 20 Aug
11:00am – 12:00pm

The Science of the Black Box is a dynamic online learning program inviting young people to explore traditional Tasmanian Aboriginal artefacts and the modern science behind their remarkable qualities: from the medicinal properties of bull kelp to the chemistry of resins and the secrets of bush-foods.

Delivered by Aboriginal Learning Facilitator, Teangi Brown in association with science educators at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, this one-hour online forum will provide an opportunity for students (Years 5 to 10) and the general public to immerse themselves in the science that sits alongside many traditional First Nation’s practices in lutruwita / Tasmania.

A recording will be available after the event.

CSIRO National Science Week Events

CSIRO National Science Week Challenge
Friday 10 Jul – Sunday 23 Aug

To celebrate National Science Week, CSIRO is challenging all Australians to find out what connects them to the ocean, wherever they live. From taking photos of local waterways to designing and building a water filter, you can explore your connection to the ocean as deeply as you’d like.

Head to the CSIRO National Science Week Challenge website to learn more, be inspired and watch the Challenge video.

RV Investigator – above the waterline
Facebook live events: Tuesdays 11 and 18 August
1:00pm – 1:45pm

Join the live virtual excursion of RV Investigator, Australia’s 94m ocean-going research vessel.

Purpose built for marine research it has impressive scientific capabilities and possesses a wide range of on-board and modular laboratories and facilities. The vessel supports biological, oceanographic, geological and atmospheric research, as well maritime training and education and outreach activities. It accommodates 40 researchers and technicians and 20 crew, and has an endurance of 60 days and 10 000 nautical miles without resupply.

Nature Play QLD BioBlitz

Monday 13 Jul – Thursday 31 Dec

The Nature Play QLDBioBlitz 2020 is a science experiment that spans the entire state of Queensland – getting as many kids involved as possible so we can work together to collect scientific data. The best bit is it can be done every day of the year, wherever you are.

Nature Play QLD BioBlitz will be running until 31 December 2020. Visit Nature Play QLD BioBlitz for more information on how to play.

Nature Play QLD is committed to helping educators have outdoor learning as part of their every day.

Great Aussie BioQuest 2020

Australia wide
Saturday 15 Aug – Sunday 23 Aug

The fourth annual Great Aussie BioQuest runs during National Science Week, 15-23 August.

In this challenge, players participate in The Great Aussie BioQuest through the QuestaGame mobile app during National Science Week.

Players submit photographs of plants, animals and fungi, which are verified by experts, with feedback and points sent to the player. The biodiversity data collected will contribute to national and international databases for biodiversity mapping and research.

ALA science impact

Check out these recent science articles showcasing how ecologists and evolutionary biologists use the ALA in their research.

Multiple invasions of a generalist herbivore—Secondary contact between two divergent lineages of Nezara viridula Linnaeus in Australia by Dean Brookes, University of Queensland in the journal Evolutionary Applications, 2020.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Nezara-viridula-Green-Vegetable-Bug-by-Reiner-Richter-CC-BY-4.0-observations_32203295-1024x875.jpg
Flies on vacation: evidence for the migration of Australian Syrphidae (Diptera) by Jonathan Finch,Western Sydney University, in the journal Ecological Entomology, 2020. This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Melangyna-viridiceps-Hoverfly-by-Manu-Saunders-CC.jpg

National Science Week: Schools

The theme for this year’s National Science week is Deep Blue: innovations for the future of our oceans.

Visit the National Science Week schools webpage for more details and resources.

ALA helps educators learn more on the high seas Thu, 06 Aug 2020 07:04:46 +0000 RV Investigator is a purpose-built research vessel with impressive scientific capabilities to support biological, oceanographic, geological and atmospheric research. Thomas Coad from Rose Bay High School in Tasmania participated in CSIRO’s Educator on Board program which offered berths for primary and secondary teachers to sail on board the state-of-the-art marine research vessel, for short voyages.

CSIRO’s RV Investigator (CSIRO 2020)

On board, Thomas assisted scientists with marine research; enhanced his STEM content knowledge; ran outreach activities, including live video broadcasts; and developed curriculum-linked resources for his own classroom and to share with other teachers.

Prior to his voyage, Thomas attended a variety of training and planning activities, including an Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) online workshop. The ALA workshop explained how to find information on the species he might observe on his voyage, and provided a working knowledge of the ALA’s analysis tools. 

A requirement for teachers participating in the Educator on Board program was to develop curriculum-linked lesson plans and resources based on the research and/or ship operations.

A map from the ALA showing seabird records.

Thomas incorporated the use of the ALA in his Year 7 Science resource Taxonomic classification and species data collection.

The three-part lesson sequence features real voyage data collected during Thomas’ trip on RV Investigator. In the lesson, students learn about seabird species in different regions and compare the collected data to environmental overlays provided by the ALA. Layers of environmental factors such as temperature, rainfall or humidity are used to show the conditions favoured by particular species.

For more information:

ALA newsletter July 2020 Tue, 07 Jul 2020 02:53:34 +0000 ALA newsletter July 2020

New ALA strategy for 2020-2025 Mon, 06 Jul 2020 23:50:12 +0000 The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) strategy has been shaped extensively by input from our national and international partners who contributed so actively to our 2019 ALA Future Directions national consultation process.

As Australia’s national biodiversity data infrastructure and one of the world’s foremost such capabilities, we rely on the strength of our partnerships with data providers, users and stakeholders. Indeed, the genesis of the ALA was built on the strength and richness of existing relationships within the museums, collections and herbaria communities.

Australia’s fruitful partnership with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) also provides our community a unique opportunity to ensure that local, regional or national biodiversity data delivers impact globally. The ALA is particularly proud of the relationship we play hosting the Australian node of GBIF.

Supported by the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), and hosted by CSIRO, the ALA website launched 10 years ago. Since those beginnings the ALA has matured from an energetic ‘start-up’ to a stable and reliable data infrastructure delivering world-trusted biodiversity data and related services.

Our strategy builds on this history while identifying where we need to evolve. This includes adapting our infrastructure to deal with an increase in volume and variety of data, improving how we deal with data quality in a federated system, delivering more comprehensive and representative national data holdings, and partnering with new sectors.

We welcome further conversations with our partners to identify possible alignment opportunities framed around our strategy.

Please contact us at if you would like more information or if you have any questions.