Opening Pandora’s box? – open access for Australian ecological information

Australia has a long history of high quality ecosystem science research across multiple disciplines and over a wide range of scales. However, much of the data collected from these initiatives is fragmented in location, time and content, and separated by discipline and custodianship. A major new initiative, called ÆKOS (the Australian Ecological Knowledge and Observation System), a facility established by the Federally funded Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) is about to change the way scientists, land managers and policy makers access this ecological data.

By bringing these data together in a coordinated way, scientists will be able to tackle the big issues facing the nation’s biodiversity and environment, such as:

  • How Australia’s ecosystems change over time;
  • What’s the current status and condition of some of Australia’s ecosystems;
  • What are our biodiversity hotspots;
  • What are Australia’s carbon stocks ;
  • What is the impact of climate change on biodiversity, vegetation and animal habitats.

ÆKOS will be the first nationwide, integrated ecological data portal for systematically collected plot-based data in Australia. State agencies already have ecological data portals (atlases), but this information is restricted by State boundaries. ÆKOS’s niche is the national coordination of complex ecological data for discovery, display and retrieval at a single point of access, independent of source. It will provide an invaluable contribution to science, government and the community in a way not previously done anywhere else in the world.

“Building advanced computer software such as ÆKOS is a laborious task, we have about six or seven people working on it at any one time and Craig Patten from eResearch SA has been an exceptional member of our team”
– Craig Walker, Eco-informatics Coordinator

An Alpha version of the web portal and a video on its operation has been recently released. This early version shows key design and modeling concepts, and the feedback from more than 100 users is being used to direct future design and implementation. At a recent national workshop of ecological data managers, data custodians and informatics experts within State government agencies held at the University of Adelaide, participants gave the ‘thumbs up’ to the approaches being incorporated in the ÆKOS data portal.

The ÆKOS team have also been successful in winning external funding to develop a data submission tool to streamline the entry of data into this comprehensive system. These data will be stored in the ÆKOS database and retrieved via a sophisticated data portal. For further information about ÆKOS, visit the facility’s website or contact staff.


About Prof Andy Lowe

Prof Andy Lowe is a British-Australian scientist and expert on plants and trees, particularly the monitoring, management and utilisation of genetic, biological and ecosystem resources. He has discovered new species, lost forests, championed to eliminate illegally logged timber in global supply chains, served the UN’s Office of Drugs and Crime and has been responsible for securing multi-million dollar research funding. He is an experienced and respected executive leader, as well as mid-career mentor. Andy is the inaugural Director of Food Innovation at the University of Adelaide serving as the external face for all significant food industry and government sectors across South Australia, and the world.
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One Response to Opening Pandora’s box? – open access for Australian ecological information

  1. Anita Smyth says:

    Having access to an ecological database that brings quantitative ecological data together from national and state government agencies and universities via an online data portal will save researchers heaps of data preparation time, especially when undertaking large scale modelling studies. This type of resource is long overdue! Is it really true that ÆKOS will also provide raw data at the sampling unit level with detailed descriptions about the field sampling techniques etc? If so, I can’t wait to collaborate with data contributors and re-use their data in ways that reflects the rigour of its original collection.

    Congratulations ÆKOS!

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