During the past six months activities for the Rainforest Plant Key (RFK) have continued on the herb and orchid modules, and recently with greater input on the fern module. Progress has been slower than anticipated on the transfer of the existing RFK modules to Lucid software, but a way forward has now been established.
There have been some delays to progress on the project overall due to the move of the herbarium collection from Atherton to the ATFI site on JCU Cairns campus. This required considerable planning and implementation of the physical move and then some months of a settling in period until staff and specimens have been available.
The RFK project has now been incorporated as part of the portfolio of research associated with the Australian Tropical Herbarium (ATH).
The beta version of the orchid module of the Rainforest Key, Australian Tropical Rainforest Orchids, with 224 species in 111 genera, has been subjected to further testing in the past few months including by the botanical interns. The orchid module of the Rainforest Key has in general met the various challenges, with most users regarding it as a valuable tool for identification and for all the associated information collated in the one product.
Herbs (grasses and forbs)
Some targeted field collections of herbaceous species have been made during the past year as opportunity has arisen, targeting different stages of development. The list of taxa has been finalized, and about 45% of the estimated 420 species have character coding completed for the available material. Images have been captured for about 120 taxa. These have yet to be manipulated and prepared for incorporation into the package.
Work on the herb module will be progressed significantly with a recent appointment of a research assistant located at ATH to assist with the coding of the herb species.
There are approximately 300 species of ferns and Lycopods in north Queensland, of which c. 200 species are unique (in Australia) to the Wet Tropics region and 100 species extend further down the east coast. About 130 species can occur as epiphytes in tropical rainforest. Exact numbers will depend on the geographic boundaries imposed.
A small team of fern experts, supported by the final phase of a grant from the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS), has developed an appropriate character list, containing between 80 and 100 characters. Further rationalization of the character list is taking place as features of different fern groups are incorporated. In order to make available a pragmatic product in reasonable timeframe it is likely that spore, gametophyte and rhizome hair features as well as the rhizome and root colour features will not be included in the key.