Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hey, Mate, What Do You Think You're Lookin' At?!


What an incredible site for pictures of Australian wildlife! The Atlas of Living Australia is a community effort from “museums, herbaria, community groups, government departments, individuals and universities.” These different institutions and groups have come together to produce a fantastic site that lists “all known” Australian species. The site has six main tabs: Australia’s Species, Species Location, Natural History Collections, Mapping Analysis, Data Sets, and Field Data Software. However, I think most lovers of exotic animals will gravitate toward the first tab, Australia’s Species.

Once you’ve clicked on the first tab, you’ll find that this database does not limit itself to birds, fish, frogs, mammals, or reptiles. The editors have also included invertebrates, conifers, and even fungi. Once you selected your area of interest you’re presented with a short gallery of ‘iconic’ Australian animals, or plants, within that kingdom. Each entry consists not only of pictures, but the proper classification, a map highlighting where in Australia the animal will most likely be found, a literature search and more. And the pictures are not always photographic. Some of the entries’ image galleries include skeletons, x-rays, and one, the Botany Bay Weevil, even includes a map.

X-ray of a reptile

But you’re not limited to the ‘iconic’ animals. There’s a search box on nearly every page. Just type in your favorite Australian animals, or Bugs Bunny’s favorite, the Tasmanian devil, and voila! I was surprised to discover that this site even lists some extinct animals such as the Thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger. (Although it’s only a black and white photograph, the image still manages to render the tiger poignant, mysterious and dangerous at the same time. I find it heart wrenching that this animal was hunted to extinction.)

The Atlas of Living Australia also has a social media component. The blogs section includes posts on how to incorporate science into your daily life and citizen science posts. The concept behind citizen science is that you don’t have to possess a PhD in Botany to learn, collaborate and contribute to the scientific process. You can, for example, post you observations from a nature walk to a central online depository where professionals studying that geographical area can analyze your findings and apply them to their research. And though some of these entries are specific to Australia, the ideas could be easily be modified for American vacations. (Crowdsourcing in the scientific community could be a blog entry onto itself. If you interested in learning more on this topic and working on projects, visit Citizen Science at Scientific American.)

For students looking for the proper classification of Australian wildlife it’s indispensable. For college students looking for an Australian zoology bibliography it’s a necessity. For lovers of exotic animals it’s a treat to simply scan through the multitude of photographs on this site.

Submitted by David Ryan
Business, Science & Technology Department
Central Library

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