[Taxacom] Who uses biodiversity data and why? GBIF Responses
mesibov at southcom.com.au
Tue Dec 5 17:08:02 CST 2006
I agree with Donat Agnosti that taxonomists and conservationists feel they
need each other. It is not always obvious how they can best work together,
so I give here one successful example.
The Natural Heritage Assessment Section within the Australian Government's
Department of Environment and Heritage has a difficult job. It has to
objectively evaluate proposals for listing places as "special", "important",
etc on the Commonwealth Natural Heritage List. Listed places are then
managed/protected primarily for their conservation values.
The problem is that a strong case can always be made by a passionate
conservationist to protect _any_ natural area, even ones whose natural
values are, objectively, already represented many times over in the same
region. A related problem is that there are "undiscovered" places that
deserve listing, but no one has spoken for them yet, and there may be plans
for changes to land management which would threaten the natural values in
these "undiscovered" areas.
A few years ago, the NHAS decided to build up its own expertise in the form
of a GIS-linked database of invertebrate records. The targeted groups were
land and freshwater snails, dragonflies and damselflies, butterflies,
mygalomorph spiders and polydesmidan millipedes. Note the bias towards
"sensitive" groups with high local endemicity.
The still-growing database has already been used to evaluate listing
proposals, identify centres of regional endemism, and compare "special
areas" for invertebrates vs. those for vertebrates and vascular plants, for
both of which groups, of course, there are vastly more records. The working
resolution for analysis is 0.5 degree lat/long, but for most records the
spatial resolution is much better.
Now for the interesting bit. To ensure that the records are the best
possible quality, NHAS _pays_ expert taxonomists to examine as many museum
holdings as possible, specimen by specimen, sorted and unsorted, checking
identities and evaluating spatial accuracy. Some money has also been made
available for field work to fill in data gaps and resolve taxonomic issues.
Thus every single record in the NHAS database has been carefully vetted by a
specialist. This makes the records relatively expensive for conservation
purposes, but as reliable as possible. The cost to conservation is offset by
the gain to taxonomy:
1. Museums get holdings of selected taxa tidied up, and their collection
databases added to and corrected. Money is also available through NHAS for
museum registration of new-sorted samples.
2. Taxonomists get to see and catalogue all/nearly all available specimens
in their special groups. As you can imagine, the NHAS project is generating
some very interesting new taxonomic publications.
3. Data gaps and taxonomic gaps nationwide are much clearer.
I don't know whether the NHAS database will be made available through GBIF,
and there is an issue with the fact that many of the records are of
undescribed species. What I'm confident about is that the taxonomic quality
of the NHAS occurrence record set is as good as it gets. These records are
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery
and School of Zoology, University of Tasmania
Home contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
(03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195
Australian Millipedes Checklist
Spatial data basics for Tasmania
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