Mapping Aussie plant and animal life online

Whether they live in trees, underground or at the bottom of the ocean, no creature or plant  will be able to hide for much longer, following the development of a new online encyclopaedia of all living things in Australia.

The Atlas of Living Australia has been developed to build a better picture of the Australian biosphere and already holds 23 million records of the distribution of Australia’s fauna and flora, including information, maps and images for each record.

Members of the public are invited to help build the database by sending in photographs or sightings of species they may have spotted in their backyard, on bushwalks or even hiding in the kitchen.

Local contributions are particularly valuable since one of the most important features of the Atlas is its ability to provide geographic information on how species are distributed across the country.

This will enable scientists to predict areas that could be suitable for a species to live, determine how a species will be affected by a change in climate, the effect of natural disasters on populations and will also contribute to managing biosecurity issues. A new tool currently in development will look to predict the impact of temperature and rainfall increases on specific species’ populations.

For the public, the Atlas is a useful tool for students, teachers and parents to learn more about their own environment and the species nearby.  By simply typing in a postcode, the Atlas can provide a list of every known animal, plant, funghi and micro-organism within a 5km radius.

The Atlas is the result of a five-year Federally funded project to consolidate data and images from more than 60 national collections.  One of these is the National Insect Collection in Canberra which holds more than 12 million specimens and grows by about 100,000 specimens a year – no small task for the Atlas creators to keep up!

The project is the result of collaboration between the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Australian natural history collections community and the Australian Government.

Now three years into the project, over the next two years the Atlas team will continue to add richer data, more predictive tools, more mobile applications and a new user interface, as well as creating the most comprehensive names list ever developed for Australian species.

People around Australia are encouraged to submit photos and sightings to the Atlas. For more information, visit the sharing section of the Atlas website.