Our Discovery Mission
Our mission is to discover and document all remaining Australian species of plants, animals, fungi and other organisms ... in a generation.
How on Earth are we going to do this?
A key strategic action in the decadal plan for taxonomy and biosystematics in Australia and New Zealand 2018-2027 seeks a substantial acceleration in the discovery and documentation of new species:
Strategic action 1.1 We will significantly increase the rate at which new species in Australia and New Zealand
are discovered, resolved, named and documented.
To achieve this strategic action, Taxonomy Australia and the Australian taxonomy and biosystematic sector are working, with support from the Ian Potter Foundation, the Australian Academy of Science, and a range of partner organisations, to prepare for launch a grand science mission to discover and document all remaining Australian species in a generation.
Rainforest fruits, north Queensland. Image: Tapio Linderhaus
Discovering and documenting species is important. Species that have been documented and named can be conserved, their interactions in Australian ecosystems can be studied, and they can be adequately managed.
And yet, an estimated 70% of Australia's species of animals, fungi, plants and other organisms have not yet been discovered - they are unnamed, unknown, undocumented and invisible to government, industry and the community.
Species that are unknown are not unimportant. Some will be crucial species in ecosystems, helping ensure that our lands and oceans remain productive and healthy. Some may be important for agriculture or biosecurity, either as emerging pests or diseases, or as natural biological controls for pests and diseases. Others will be important resources for future industries and, if managed wisely, may drive future economic growth.
But if a species is not yet known and documented, then it cannot be adequately protected. Many of the species that remain invisible will become extinct invisibly. Or, tragically, they may be named from dead specimens in museums long after they have become extinct. The benefits they could bring will then be irretrievably lost.
Boyd's Forest Dragon with Usnea. Photo: Tapio Linderhaus
After more than 300 years of the Western scientific exploration and documentation of Australia's biodiversity, the task is only around one third complete. At current rate, taxonomists estimate that it will take at least another four centuries to complete a first-pass documentation of Australia's biodiversity.
This is too long.
Fortunately, a combination of modern technologies such as high-throughput DNA sequencing, artificial intelligence, super-computing, with appropriate investment and a trained and committed workforce, could allow the task - the discovery and documentation of all Australian species - to be completed in a generation.
Nembrothia lineolata laying eggs on a sea-squirt Polycarpa aurata. Photo: By Nick Hobgood - CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4585456
The benefits will be immense. A cost-benefit analysis of a mission to discover and document all remaining Australian species in a generation estimated benefits of $3.7 to $28.9 billion for the Australian economy over 25 years, with the benefits outweighing the costs by a factor of between $4 and $35 for every $1 invested. Benefits will be found in biosecurity, conservation, agricultural research and development, and biodiscovery for human health.
You can read more about the mission in the Mission Summary and Mission Plan, in the report by Deloitte Access Economics, or in these Mission FAQs. Or, read about the four proposed core infrastructure components for the mission - a national biobank and DNA sequence library, national biodiversity diagnostics capability, biodiversity knowledge graph, and national training program.