The mark of a good action is that it appears inevitable in retrospect – Robert Louis Stevenson
This project is based on recent Flora of Australia volumes 48, 49, 50 (pteridophytes) and integrates these resources within the electronic information arena. It serves as a test-bed and model for electronic presentation of published FoA information while exploring mechanisms and technology to extend and enhance this information. It is collaborative and once established will be self-sustainable. It links to other electronic projects such as the Virtual Australian Herbarium. The application is extensible in terms of taxonomic groups and regional coverage; given the close relationships of the Australian and New Zealand pteridophyte floras an ultimate Australasian coverage is anticipated.
The aim of this project is to present botanical information and means of identification for Australian pteridophytes in a dynamically maintained and interactive electronic form.
The final product will include background instructional and explanatory text, interactive electronic keys, textual descriptions of characters and taxa, line drawings of characters and taxa, photographic images of characters and taxa, interactive maps of plant distribution and occurrence, with comments and discussion. The preparation of this material will be with the Internet and delivery to world wide web clients in mind, but can be packaged on CDROM for users without Internet access.
It will integrate recent Flora of Australia volumes 48, 49, 50 pteridophyte accounts, resolving inconsistencies and differences between these treatments, and will incorporate advances in the understanding of the systematics and taxonomy of ferns and fern allies since the publication of these works.
The project will serve as a test-bed and model for electronic presentation of published Flora of Australia information while exploring mechanisms and technology to extend and enhance this information. Alternative electronic presentation of the traditional products of taxonomy will underpin the project. The migration of the data from linear text based systems to structured database systems are a fundamental requirement.
It will be collaborative nationally and internationally in terms of both taxonomic expertise and the technology employed. Once established the project will be self-sustainable as a result of ongoing collaboration and links to related projects in pteridophyte nomenclature, taxonomy, systematics, floristics, and bioinformatics. Continuing contributions and partnerships will be encouraged from across the pteridological community.
It will link to other electronic projects such as the Virtual Australian Herbarium, the Plant Name Project and the International Plant Names Index, the International Organization for Plant Information, etc. It will draw on and link to existing plant name and taxon databases, as well as published floras and taxonomic revisions.
The application is extensible in terms of taxonomic groups and regional coverage. Given the close relationships of the Australian and New Zealand pteridophyte floras an ultimate Australasian coverage is anticipated for the treatments in this project, capitalising on the work on two significant and closely related fern floras.
The current trend in biology is for the electronic storage, management, presentation and delivery of data, information and knowledge. The relatively new discipline of bioinformatics has arisen to deal with this need and demand.
There are c. 456 species of Australian ferns and fern allies, arranged in c. 112 genera. These are well described and well illustrated in the Flora of Australia, the Ferns of Queensland1 and other state and regional floras. While much of this data is available electronically, little of it is available in database form.
The Flora of Australia commitment to publication of ferns and ferns allies is essentially complete with the publication of volume 48 in 1999. Previous accounts of ferns and fern allies can be found in volumes 49 and 50 (Oceanic Islands). These three accounts were prepared at different times by different authors and there are some differences in delimitation and circumscription of taxa.
On a global basis, Internet resources for ferns and fern allies are many but scattered (see http://www.anbg.gov.au/project/fern/fern-links.html). There are well over 100 pages of pteridophyte information on the Internet that can be considered useful or moderately so. These include entire flora treatments (Flora of North America), regional checklists, links to taxonomic and herbarium databases, image collections, undergraduate course notes, research project summaries, amateur compilations. A CDROM on pteridophytes has been produced (Ferns of Thailand) but although copiously illustrated this is neither comprehensive for the region, nor of particularly high quality, nor particularly relevant to the Australian region.