Electronic Pteridophyte Flora of Australia

a collaboration to create and maintain a dynamic interactive resource of Australian ferns and fern allies

The mark of a good action is that it appears inevitable in retrospect – Robert Louis Stevenson

Summray

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.

Investigators

Jim CROFT David JONES Peter BOSTOCK
Australian National Herbarium,
Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research
Australian National Herbarium,
Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research
Queensland Herbarium
GPO Box 1600,
Canberra,
ACT 2601
GPO Box 1600,
Canberra,
ACT 2601
Brisbane Botanic Gardens,
Mt Coot-tha Rd, Toowong,
Queensland 4066
Phone: (02) 6246 5500
Fax: (02) 6246 5249
Email: jrc@anbg.gov.au
Phone: (02) 6246 5502
Fax: (02) 6246 5249
Email: dlj@anbg.gov.au
Phone: (07) 3896 9508
Fax: (07) 3896 9624
Email: peter.bostock@env.qld.gov.au

Collaborators and othe participants

Patrick Brownsey (WELT) Collaborator/contributor; New Zealand expertise
Bob Chinnock (AD) Collaborator/contributor
Murray Fagg (CANB) Internet information management
Jan Wilson (CANB) Image and slide management
Helen Hadobas (CANB) Herbarium technical support
Ros Grace (CANB) Herbarium technical support
Greg Whitbread (CANB) IT and database support
John Hook (CANB) IT and database support
TBA (CANB) Graphic design support
TBA (BRI) Illustrator
TBA (this proposal) Technical support
Other collaborators (various) Taxonomic expertise. Expert pteridologists will be invited to contribute to this project in the areas of their taxonomic or regional speciality.

Timing

Projected to start 2001 and run for three years. It is designed to be self-sustaining from 2004 onwards.

Aims and objectives of the project

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.

Justification and benefits of the project

General Statement:

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. This has been reflected in recent ABRS support for the development of interactive key software and for the development of electronic information systems based on this for a variety of plant groups (plant families, Acacia, Grevillea, Hakea, Orchidaceae). A number of animal groups have been supported in a similar way.

This project is directly relevant to the aims and objectives of the ABRS, particularly those of disseminating the results of taxonomic research to the user community.

The December 1998 Market Report: client feedback on the role and services of the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS) unequivocally demonstrated the public requirement for more accessible and more relevant products of the taxonomic process. By presenting information in an alternative electronic form, this project seeks to address some of these concerns.

The Client Survey mentioned the ‘virtual consensus on the need to rely on the web as the medium for maintaining and providing information’. The electronic management and dissemination of taxonomic information is an integral part of this proposal and will enable ABRS to meet its ‘need to market itself and the value of the public value of taxonomy’, as recommended in the Client Survey.

A recurrent theme of the recent Review of ABRS was the need to achieve greater market penetration of its output. ‘Access to information’ was identified as one of the three major components of the ABRS program (point 12, page 6), and that ‘its products need to become more useful and used’. In addressing these issues, the proposed project seeks to enhance ABRS’s ability to reach a wider audience who will appreciate and come to rely upon its products. According to the Review, ‘the demand for information that ABRS produces is going to increase markedly in coming years’ (point 75, page 18) and there is a need to ‘improve the accessibility and usefulness of information it generates’ (point 80, page 19).

Expected Outputs:

Expected Outcomes:

Proposed plan of research

Background

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.

ABRS and other organisations have supported or are planning support for the production of interactive keys and electronic information systems for a number of large iconic and charismatic plant groups. Apart from the general key to flowering plant families, these include the rainforest trees and shrubs, the eucalypts, Acacia, Grevillea, Hakea, and the orchids; production has been in the form of CDROM or with CDROM in mind. A remaining large group in this category is the ferns and their allies.

This proposal envisages the production of a similar electronic resource of botanical information to disseminate in simple, intuitive format to general users as well as the practitioners of botanical taxonomy. The internet and the World Wide Web is seen as the primary vehicle for this project.

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.

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.

One of the PIs (PB) has compiled an extensive database of Australian pteridophyte nomenclature, taxonomy and bibliography and has extensive knowledge of a number of groups and of Queensland ferns in particular. DLJ has extensive experiences and field knowledge of Australian ferns and has taken many photographs of these plants in the wild. JRC has extensive experience in the ferns and ferns allies of New Guinea, and has been compiling a DELTA data set for pteridophyte families and genera (presently 376 taxa and 111 characters.

Collaborator Bob Chinnock has extensive knowledge of the Australian and New Zealand fern floras. New Zealand collaborator Patrick Brownsey has wide knowledge of a number of complex Australian genera (Asplenium and Hypolepis) and has a well advanced DELTA interactive key to the pteridophytes of New Zealand. There are 94 species in common between Australia and New Zealand, representing c. half the fern flora of New Zealand and almost a quarter of fern flora of Australia. This suggests fruitful avenues for partnership and the sharing resources and effort between the two projects.

Plan of work

Coordinating participants:

Access to information and data:

Database structure for descriptive information:

Technical support for character scoring:

Project management and quality control:

Resources

Priorities

Timeframe

References

Andrews, S.B. 1990. Ferns of Queensland. A handbook to the ferns and fern allies. Queensland Dept. Primary Industries, Brisbane.

McCarthy, P.M. (ed.) 1998. Flora of Australia. Volume 48. Ferns, Gymnosperms and Allied Groups. ABRS/CSIRO, Australia.