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NatureShare is a new website http://natureshare.org.au which stores information about indigenous species in Victoria. It allows anyone to upload their observations of species so as to share them with the world. It also provides for ‘collections’ of information relating to an area such as the native plants of the Macedon Regional Park for example, or the Victorian Volcanic Plains. It is a great resource for IFFA members to pool their observations.
All the species known in Victoria to be remnant & self-sustaining flora/fauna (i.e. plants, weed, animals and introduced animals, but not plants in revegetation sites, garden plants, pets, etc) will be listed on the site. This currently includes plants, mammals, birds, frogs, snakes & lizards, butterflies, dragonflies and grasshoppers; other groups are being added over time (currently over 16,400 species names). Users can add their observations of these species, and create their own ‘collections’. A collection is essentially a species list for an area (your own property, a park or reserve, suburb or town etc.) with a set of observations linked to the collection/area. Observations can be accompanied by a photograph, but need not be. Species names can be added to the collection independently of observations (so anyone can add the name to anyone else’s observations; eg. if the observer doesn’t know the species observed).
New users need to register and login, then set up their username and profile. They are then ready to upload observations. A user can also ‘join’ an existing collection, or create their own collection and then while entering an observations can add it to a relevant collection. Tags such as ‘flower’, ‘leaf’, ‘female’ etc are important parts of an observation which allow for searching for particular observations of a species.
How does the sharing part of NatureShare work?
- Photos are shared across collections; so if a species list is added to a new collection, photos from other collections are automatically shared with the new collection, instantly generating the beginnings of a photo-based e-book for the collection. Then, as new photos are collected at the site and added to the collection, those new photos take precedence over shared photos.
- Once you enter 'biological attributes' into NatureShare, they are shared for all to use. This means, if biological attributes are already entered in NatureShare prior to a collection being established the new collection becomes immediately searchable using those attributes. Most importantly, once attributes are entered, they are in NatureShare forever and there is no need for individuals and groups to 'reinvent the wheel' on their existing website. Note also that taxonomy is already included for all species, so this is also searchable, and there are numerous ‘categories’ also in the database (eg. all FFG- and EPBC-listed species, and other colloquial terms like parrot, wattle, weed, butterfly. So from day one, all collections are searchable for asteraceae weeds, for example. Then by adding basic attributes for the species in a collection it is possible to search for plants with yellow flowers and five petals, or moths with green wings.
- NatureShare makes photos and other information available for anyone who wants to use them (eg. for books, newsletters, articles) so long as proper credit is given under a Creative Commons attribution scheme.
- NatureShare makes it possible to share local knowledge with the local community, and to share it with visitors to your area. And vice-versa, people living in your area and visitors to an area can add to local collections if they see something of interest.
- Many individuals and groups (e.g. birdos, plant groups) regularly go on excursions/walks and some make formal or informal lists and photos of what they see. All of this information can be shared for the benefit of all on NatureShare.
- All the existing features in NatureShare are shared for anyone to use. There is no need for individuals and groups to keep 're-inventing the wheel'.
- If you think of a new feature for NatureShare you can build it yourself (or apply for grants to pay for someone to build it for you). Once you've built it, you share it with others so we (and Nature) can all benefit from your goodwill. NatureShare is an OpenGL web 2.0 application. This means code can be made available to people/groups if you want to help develop NatureShare further.
A calendar feature, drawing information from observations and tags automatically (e.g. times of flower observations of a species or moth flight times) is in development.
NatureShare is a project conceived, designed and implemented by Reilly Beacom and Russell Best. It was launched in August 2011. The initial focus of NatureShare was the Keilor-Werribee plains (north & west of Melbourne), Riddells Creek and the Macedon Range thanks to funding and in-kind support from people and groups in these areas.
The project was funded by Riddells Creek Landcare, APS Keilor Plains and DSE's Vision for Werribee Plains project, with the addition of an extraordinary amount of volunteer and in-kind support from people and groups in Riddells Creek, the Macedon Range, across the Keilor-Werribee plains and beyond.
What will effectively be NatureShare 2.0 may be up and running at the end of June. NatureShare has effectively been taken up by Atlas of Living Australia who have funded Museum Victoria to incorporate it into a bigger system they are calling 'Bowerbird'. Russell Best is hopeful that this will take over completely from the current version of NatureShare. “Basically the Museum/ALA wanted a NatureShare-like system and they had already developed the stuff we were going to do in the next 10 years within the Museum's biosecurity system, so they are putting it all together, effectively replacing biosecurity with biodiversity for this system. It will have, I hope, everything that is in NatureShare but also include all the things that are currently not great in NatureShare, like excellent communication systems, mapping, better searchability, and many more bells & whistles, the ability to set up virtual groups, and including one or probably two apps for iphone and ipad. The Museum have full-time programmers while we had one voluntary programmer so you can imagine how fast they can do things compared to us.”
NatureShare provides a long-needed resource for compiling observations of species occurrence and ecology in Victoria. However some areas that IFFA members may find lacking in the current implementation include:
- There is potentially a lot of data with not much interpretation. For example the site does not include a general description of the species.
- The site is not an identification guide, except insofar as you can compare photos already on the website with your observation.
- The site does not deal with revegetation either in the sense of including observations of revegetated species, or in terms of including information on how to propagate or re-establish a species.
- There is little emphasis on how species interact.
- The site as it stands is not particularly inviting for the general member of the public to learn about their local indigenous species.
These functions might possibly be added to the site in future, so in the meantime IFFA’s web pages on flora and fauna species will remain, and members are encouraged to contribute to these pages as well as to NatureShare. We will endeavour to include a link to the NatureShare species record in each of our species pages.
- Tony Faithfull
Much of the information in this article is drawn from the NatureShare website.