Mapping and its Application to Natural History

September 2019 Meeting

Our speaker was Nat Reisbeck-Brown, a spatial scientist who has been working on the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA). Nat walked us through some of the features of this database of nature observations, so that we can use it to find out more about our local areas and the species that live there.

A recent addition to the ALA is the inclusion of Indigenous names for certain species. Included so far are names from the Gamilaroi, Yuwaalayaay and Yuwaaalaray languages from northern NSW and in the future will include other language groups from across Australia. Doing so involves working closely alongside local language custodians to ensure the information is correct and it is culturally appropriate for it to be shared. Some Indigenous names go beyond the species concept and carry additional information, such as differentiating males from females. As a trusted reference source, the ALA needs to be accurate because—as Nat put it “once it is on the internet, it is out there forever”.

Nat also demonstrated some of the search and interactive mapping functions of the ALA, available after creating a free account. Using Koalas as an example, she showed how you can generate a map showing the distribution of that species, which sometimes includes unusual records, such as a Koala supposedly in the middle of the Norwegian Sea! Clicking these dots on the map reveals more information: records of Koalas in the south west of WA turned out to be fossils found in caves near Margaret River. The ALA also allows you to show multiple species within the same map to reveal possible relationships, and a tool which allows you to predict where a species might be found based on the habitat it is commonly associated with.

The area report tool allows researchers and interested amateurs to generate lists and field guides of species recorded in the selected area. The ALA also provides a repository of photos that have been licensed for free use. The technology behind the ALA has also been licensed to 17 other countries which are building their own Living Atlases, hopefully helping people all around the world connect with their local natural areas.

Gabor Bedo

Japan. Focus talk by Gabor on page 2