Electronic Pteridophyte Flora of Australia

a collaboration to create and maintain a dynamic interactive resource of Australian ferns and fern allies

Project Plan

There are c. 456 species of Australian ferns and fern allies, arranged in c. 112 genera. These are well described and well illustrated in the Flora of Australia, the Ferns of Queensland and other state and regional floras. While much of this data was compiled electronically, little of it is available in a structured database format.

The Flora of Australia commitment to publication of ferns and fern allies is essentially complete with the publication of volume 48 in 1999. Previous accounts of ferns and fern allies can be found in Oceanic Islands volume 49 (1994) and volume 50 (1993). These three accounts were prepared at different times by different authors and there are differences in delimitation, circumscription and naming of taxa that need to be harmonized.

ABRS and other organisations have supported or are planning support for the production of interactive keys and electronic information systems for a number of large iconic and charismatic plant groups; a remaining large group in this category is the ferns and their allies. This project envisages an electronic resource of botanical information to be disseminated in a simple, intuitive format to general users as well as the practitioners of botanical taxonomy. The internet and the World Wide Web are seen as the primary vehicle for this project, planned to run over three years:

The project will start off gradually and the resources applied to it will increase each year until its completion. The project design is modular and allows for a deliverable at the completion of each year of the project:

There will however be overlap of the modules with anticipation and testing of the work to be done in years 2 and 3 being done in the previous years. Years 2 and especially 3 of the project will see the emphasis move from data compilation to data presentation and a need for additional specialist assistance is anticipated and planned for.

This is an ambitious project that depends on external technical support and multi-institutional collaboration for its success. The additional technical input is required to handle the volume of works and to assist the project managers deliver the outputs as planned.

Year 1

The focus of the first year will be getting the three existing Flora treatments into the Oracle database prepared for this purpose, integrating and checking the consistency of the taxonomy of each treatment and making the combined data available on-line. Outdated taxonomy will be corrected as part of this process. It is anticipated that some of the tasks from years two and three will be anticipated and start in the first year as the technology is evaluated and tested. Tasks to be undertaken in year 1, some of which will run concurrently will include:

During this phase, the Austalian Plant Name Index will be updated and checked for Australian Pteridophyte names and their synonyms. After linking these APNI entries to the appropriate Flora of Australia entries, the APNI entry will become the Flora of Australia nomenclature and taxonomy, and vice versa.

Year 2

The focus of the second year will be to prepare the data matrix of characters and character states for all taxa, and to build and test the draft interactive key. It is expected that some of these tasks will have been anticipated and started in year one, and will be accelerated in this phase. Similarly, tasks started and larely completed in year one will be revisited, tested and refined in this second year.

During the second year collaborating Australian herbaria will attempt to curate and database their Australian Pteridophyte collections. Pteridophytes are in the second rank priority for the Austrlaia's Virtual Herbarium project and the timing of both efforts are quite compatible.

Year 3

The focus of year 3 will be the integration of images and illustrative material with the interactive keys and the finalization of the database and on-line products. It is expected that some of these tasks will have been anticipated and started in years one and two, and will be accelerated and finalized in this phase. Similarly, projects started and largely completed in years one and two will be revisited, tested, refined and finalized in year three.

Year 4 and beyond

By the fourth year the compilation of the datasets will be complete and the project will be in on-going maintenance and update mode. The collaborators will need to establish protocols and the basis for sharing tasks for the on-going maintenance of this database resource.

By the time the project is complete, and even before, negotiations will have started with State herbaria to prepare their Pteridophyte floras in a similar format, using similar standards, so that an integrated vitual flora giving access to all of the State floras will be available through Australia's Virtual Herbarium.

The workshops

The purpose of the workshops is to engage the pteridological community, ABRS and other partners on the project and establish areas of collaboration. They will provide opportunities to pool expertise and plan critical stages of the project.

Year 1 workshop

A workshop will be held early in the first year to bring the principal investigators and principal collaborators together to kick start the project. It will:

Year 3 workshop

A second workshop of principal investigators and collaborators will be held early in the third year to review progress and map out the final stages of the project:

Infrastructure and support

Although the database and server for the Electronic Pteridophyte Flora of Australia will be maintained at the Australian National Herbarium (CANB) in Canberra, the collaborative nature of this project aims to derive support from a wide national and international user base from the outset. In addition to technical support provided through ABRS, considerable infrastructural support will be provided by the participants:

Access to data and information

The data, information and other objects required for this Electronic Pteridophyte Flora of Australia project are held by a variety of institutions and jurisdictions. Access to and permission to use these items will be sought from the relevant sources:

Project management and quality control

The project will be managed by the principal collaborators at the Australian National Herbarium in consultation with external project collaborators. Quality and appropriateness of design and information content will be assured through the following:

The Future

There are 94 species in common between Australia and New Zealand, representing c. half the fern flora of New Zealand and almost a quarter of fern flora of Australia. This suggests fruitful avenues for partnership and the sharing resources and effort between the two projects.

Collaborator Bob Chinnock has extensive knowledge of the Australian and New Zealand fern floras. New Zealand collaborator Patrick Brownsey has wide knowledge of a number of complex Australian genera (Asplenium and Hypolepis) and has a well advanced DELTA interactive key to the pteridophytes of New Zealand.

Collaboration and joint development in this area will be pursued at the outset of the project. Of particular interest is the prospect of shared maintenance and ongoing support of the datasets, and the development of a supplementary project proposal in this area will be explored.

Indicative duties of additional technical and other support

The following are indicative duties that would be performed by the external technical support at each stage of the project:

Part-time technical support - Year 1

Full-time technical support - Year 2

Full-time technical support - Year 3

Graphic design services - Year 3