Biodiversity informatics for conservation and biosecurity

Two maps of Australia with different colours depicting different plant species.

New tools are being developed to incorporate genetic and species trait data that will identify regions with uniquely adapted species. Credit: State of the Environment Report 2016.

In an era where extensive data about biodiversity have become increasingly publicly available, we need new methods to integrate ecological, genetic, and species-level data in a way that can provide important information to improve conservation and biosecurity outcomes.

We are developing tools that will allow users to combine and analyse standard data types in biodiversity informatics, in this case large-scale information about the evolutionary history of species, traits for individuals or species, and ecological data. These tools will enable the identification of regions with uniquely adapted species, which may be of conservation concern or assist in conservation planning. Understanding how specific traits might help organisms adapt to their environment will help us understand which species are least able to tolerate change. In species of high agricultural concern, it allows the identification of unique populations that may pose greater threats, and therefore should be targets for control. Using a combination of genetic and trait data to identify the origin of invasive migrants has the potential to identify weak points in Australia’s biosecurity.

This project will use case studies to showcase the application of biodiversity informatics methods to better inform conservation planning, and to provide explicit information for managing biosecurity risk species. Outcomes from this project will help us understand the patterns and uniqueness of the Australian environment.

Project Lead: Dr Renee Catullo (Environomics FSP Postdoctoral Fellow)

Image credit: Figure BIO17 Numbers of plant species and critically endangered plant species listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in each Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia region. State of the Environment Report, 2016.