[Taxacom] Who uses biodiversity data and why? GBIF Responses

Bob Mesibov 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 
definitely "conservation-ready".
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
Tasmanian Multipedes
Spatial data basics for Tasmania

More information about the Taxacom mailing list