An eFlora for Australia

In the late 1970s the Australian botanical community embarked on an ambitious project — to create the first continent-wide Flora since George Bentham's mid-19th Century Flora australiensis. The first Flora of Australia volume was published before the invention of the internet and world wide web, and not surprisingly was envisaged and implemeted as a series of printed volumes.

In recent years, a print publication model for the Flora of Australia has become unsustainable, and partly for that reason progress has slowed significantly during the last decade. An early initiative to make all Flora content available online has only been partly completed.

There remains a great need for a complete, authoritative, freely-accessible, online Flora of Australia. To that end, the botanical community, the Australian Biological Resource Study (ABRS) and the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) have embarked on a project to create an eFlora Platform for Australia and New Zealand. As Chair of the eFlora Steering Committee, I'm working closely with a range of colleagues to see this project through.

The eFlora Platform as envisaged will be a world leader. A number of countries around the world have developed digital Floras. However, it must be said that most have not taken on board the opportunities available in an online environment — many digital floras are more or less on-screen representations of a paper format.

Australia, by contrast, is in a globally unique position — resulting from much work over recent decades to develop a broad national biodiversity informatics architecture — to allow development of a world's-best eFlora. The platform will draw its names from the National Species Lists (NSL), its distribution maps from the Australian Virtual Herbarium (AVH), its images from the Australian Plant Image Collection (APII) and its keys from KeyBase. This is a powerful combination, that over time will come to revolutionise the way we do taxonomy in Australia.

The eFlora Platform will be used to build a range of linked eFloras, from a new Flora of Australia to individual State or regional Floras. With planned filtering mechanisms (similar to the ones we have in KeyBase), these Floras in turn can be used to produce Florulas for subregions or local areas.

Since commencing the project with a workshop in March 2014, progress has been very encouraging. An early beta version of the Flora platform was released for user testing in September 2015, followed by an extended user testing period. Working with ABRS, testing feedback has been synthesised and provided back to the ALA for the next development sprint. The final eFlora platform is expected to be ready for public release around mid-2016.

Watch this space for more...