Australia’s birds are bright and noisy compared with birds elsewhere, so perhaps it is no surprise they account for over 18 million of the more than 30 million observations in the Atlas of Living Australia; including records from before European settlement.
Now, funded by the Australian National Data Service (ANDS), a team led by spatial ecologist Dr Jeremy VanDerWal of the Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change at James Cook University (JCU) is developing a website, known as “Edgar”, to clean up existing records and augment them with reliable observations from enthusiastic and knowledgeable bird watchers.
The data is initially analysed automatically using algorithms that can weed out any obvious errors, such as cassowaries occurring in the Indian Ocean. Regional bird experts are then asked to curate the data for their area, examining any new observations and noting older ones, which do not seem right. These experts are provided with a log-in that allows them to locate and annotate or comment on any of the records.
The public face of the “Edgar” website (tropicaldatahub.org/goto/Edgar) provides information on bird populations and distributions—now and into the future. The data can also be found via the Tropical Data Hub (tropicaldatahub.org) and Research Data Australia (researchdata.ands.org.au).
The user first nominates a bird species of interest via either common or scientific name. The website, which is still under development, responds by presenting a distribution map based on current observational data, and is colour-coded to indicate intensity of sightings. Users can then overlay a model showing areas with climatic conditions suitable for that species by integrating the ‘cleaned’ observations with climate data within the Tropical Data Hub. This information can be used to project the impact of future climate change.
“There will no doubt be improvements over time. And the website model applies to more than birds—it is just as applicable to other datasets,” says Prof Ian Atkinson, eResearch Director at JCU.