The green-spotted triangle butterfly is one species documented in the Atlas of Living Australia. (Credit: CSIRO)
by Natalie Muller
DON HOBERN REMEMBERS spending much of his childhood looking at beetles and moths without knowing how to identify what he was looking at. What he needed was a good book – one with pictures, descriptions and species distribution maps.
Now a trained computer programmer, Don is using his information technology skills to further his interest in natural history. He is leading a project that aims to make Australian biology collections available to the public via the web.
Don is the inaugural director of the Atlas of Living Australia, an online treasure trove of data about Australia’s native plants and animals. “The biggest problem most people have is understanding the wildlife around them and not knowing how to identify them,” he says.
The interactive encyclopaedia, which acts as both a Yellow Pages of Australian species and a social networking site for naturalists, is still a work in progress. But Don hopes it will be a handy resource for experts and policy makers, as well as for kids, eco-tourists and amateur naturalists.
So far the atlas features downloadable distribution charts, identification tools, images, scientific literature and data sets that provide as complete a picture as possible about each species. Eventually, DNA barcoding will also be added.
Photo: Australian Magpie.
The atlas was launched late last year and already contains more than 23 million records from museums and data collections around the country. But digitising Australia’s wildlife records is no small task.
That’s one of the reasons why the atlas team is encouraging the public to upload their own field notes, sightings and photographs to the encyclopaedia’s citizen science portal.