Think local, act www 13/07/12 | by Tony Faithfull

NatureShare is a new website which stores information about indigenous species in Victoria. Anyone can upload observations to share with the world. It also provides for ‘collections’ of information relating to a specific area.

All species known in Victoria to be remnant or selfsustaining (i.e. plants, weeds, animals and introduced animals, but not plants in revegetation sites, garden plants, pets, etc) will be included. This currently includes plants, mammals, birds, frogs, snakes and lizards, butterflies, dragonflies and grasshoppers; other groups are being added over time.

Once a species is listed, users can add observations and create their own ‘collections’. A collection is essentially a species list, usually with observations, for a specific area. Observations can be accompanied by a photograph, but need not be. Tags such as ‘flower’, ‘leaf’, ‘juvenile’ etc are important elements which allow for searching for particular observations of a species.

New users need to register and login, set up their username and profile, ‘join’ a collection, or create their own collection and then observations can be uploaded.

How does the sharing part of NatureShare work?

Photos are shared across collections; 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. Then, as new photos are collected at the site and added to the collection, those new photos take precedence over shared photos. At the moment about 50% of the species have photos attached.

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. 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.

NatureShare makes photos and other information available for any use (eg. books, newsletters, articles) so long as credit is given under a Creative Commons attribution scheme.

Many individuals and groups regularly go on excursions/ walks and make lists and photos of what they see. This information can be shared on NatureShare.

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). NatureShare is an OpenGL web 2.0 application, which means code is freely available.

NatureShare is a project conceived, designed and implemented by Reilly Beacom and Russell Best and was launched in August 2011. It 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 soon. 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 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, like excellent communication systems, mapping, better searchability, and many more bells and whistles, the ability to set up virtual groups, and including one or probably two apps for iphone and ipad”.

NatureShare provides a long-needed resource for compiling observations of species occurrence and ecology in Victoria. However features 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 species.
  • The site is not an identification guide although 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 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 as well as to NatureShare. We will endeavour to include a link to the NatureShare species record in each of our species pages.

Much of the information in this article is drawn from the NatureShare website or information kindly provided by Russell Best.NatureShare website or information kindly provided by Russell Best.