Astonishing Atlas of Living Australia

Am I only person who didn’t know about this? The Atlas of Living Australia contains information on all the known species in Australia and is just jam-packed with the most amazing range of information. Really it is just a treasure-trove of information presented in a variety of ways.

There are fact-sheets on all the species. There are interactive maps showing sightings, so you can explore the area around where you live with filters allowing you to focus on particular species. There is detail on collections. The Atlas recently reached a significant milestone: 30 million records. The range of information available is just amazing.

It’s this sort of endeavour which shows the real power of the Internet. You take a range of disparate but related information, which might be lost or ignored when held in separate silos, and then bring it together to provide an amazing facility in which the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts. This was the role undertaken by specialist libraries or museums in the past; but today it can be achieved virtually and presumably much more cost-effectively. The approach also allows everyone, not just accredited scientists or those fortunate enough to live close to a physical location, to access, use and contribute to the information. And this last point is important the information available is not just being aggregated but it is being added to through crowd-sourcing sightings. As Patrick Mahony from Science by Email, to whom I owe thanks for the revelation that the Atlas exists put it:

The Atlas encourages people to become ‘citizen scientists’, and to report sightings and upload photos of animals and plants in their area. In this way ordinary people can contribute to the growing bank of scientific knowledge.

There are some elements which would make the Atlas more user-friendly. For example, some more error-checking on some of the contributed data and tighter links between the database searches and the, much more citizen-scientist friendly, fact-sheets. And I’d really love some way to navigate to finding things I don’t already know the name of (which, sadly, for me is most living things).

4 thoughts on “Astonishing Atlas of Living Australia

  • April 18, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Hi Evan,

    Glad you found out about the Atlas and thank you for telling people about it. I work on the Atlas and also think it’s fantasticthe Atlas on your blog.

  • April 18, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Hi Evan, sorry about last comment – accidently hit the send button. Thanks for letting people know about the Atlas. I’ll pass your comments and suggestions to our developers who have a long list of enhancements and new features they’re busy working on. I will look at the fact sheets to see if they can be made more user-friendly. The issue of being able to identify a living thing that you don’t know the name of is a complex one. Sometimes photos may not be clear enough to make an ID; sometimes there may be many species and sub-species of the same organism that look very similar and only an expert can ID, and only from a specimen, not a photo. And so on. Experts are busy, and sometimes can’t find the time to spend on helping others with IDs. The Atlas is creating an online space where people can post photos etc. of a living thing they’ve seen or found, and a community of interested users, including motivated experts, could try to help with ID.


    • April 18, 2012 at 5:03 pm

      Am in the middle of making a talk to be given to the local Field Naturalists Club. Am also a contributer with lots more to go. The issue of how to help the non-expert in identification is, unfortunately, not going to go away soon; there are just not enough nor those that do exist have the time.
      Lynne’s point about photos is very important; I have recently seen a misidentification on a web-site well used by the curious, but of an insect probably only 4 or 5 persons would know it’s i.d. was wrong.



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