Our Discovery Mission
Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to discover and document all remaining Australian species of plants, animals, fungi and other organisms ... in a generation.
Part 3 - Whiteboards
The ideas below have been contributed to the whiteboard for discussion during the roundtable breakouts. You can add to them on the Whiteboard ideas page
Roundtable 1: What field campaigns are we likely to need to support our mission?
Many un-named species are already represented in our collections, but others will not be, or still need more specimens. This roundtable will consider issues around field work, including:
Do we need to plan a field work campaign as part of this mission, or will field work be conducted on an as-needs basis?
What role could there be for the public and citizen science in field collecting?
If field work needs to be ramped up, should this happen early or late in the mission?
What types of support structures and programs should we build to support field collecting for our mission?
- Streamlining permit appplications. Most institutions have collecting permits that cover their home state. Could this be coordinated on a country-wide scale, so that out-of-state collecting trips can be collaboratively done with 'home' state institutions under their permit.
- Potentially an approachable and tractable goal to say that in the first 1-2 (5) years we will name all species 100 km from major cities.
- Pick a well-known national park (i.e. Kakadu) and work towards naming all taxa in that national park in early years. Tractable and outward facing work.
Funding for field work would be needed. In addition, some field sites are by law illegal to collect in (as is the case in some QLD areas) which will mean some endemic species might never be found.
Some taxa require specialist techniques for collection. Training manuals/lectures (on-line?) for different taxonomic groups could assist citizen science activities.
Some habitats are difficult to adequately sample e.g. deep subterranean, inquilines. Specialists working on such habitats need to be encouraged to send all by-catch (stored appropriately) to a central repository (state based?) where it can be sorted and catalogued.
Collection permit conditions are often inflexible and time-consuming. I often forego collecting even when visiting poorly sampled areas as I already have more specimens available to me than I could process in the rest of my life so why try to get more? I know I'm probably missing many undocumented species by adopting such an attitude.
- More travel grants (field work based) made available for students embarking their taxonomy journey. Currently, in the marine realm, we (students) compete too much with societies that offer travel grants in a broad range of marine disciplines. IE oceanography, ecology, microbiology, restoration. Hence it is hard to receive funding to conduct phylogeographic studies or even localised studies for that matter.
- Museum housed specimens can be very beneficial in providing a starting point for exploring specific marine taxa especially designing new primer sets for species delineation. However, additional samples from type localities prove very beneficial, and there is always a need to fill in locality gaps that exist with the wide distribution range of some marine taxa.
- Citizen science can be beneficial in just simple reconnaissance and providing information about where particular species may occur. This saves time in the planning of fieldwork to target the collection of specific marine taxa.
How about time-flexible Bush Blitz-like programs that allow teams of collectors to respond to episodic events eg. rare rainfall events?
One reason given for ramping up taxonomic effort is that it is meant to help monitor environmental change. But these are currently separate enterprises. This can hide the relevance of taxonomy. Field collection could sometimes be integrated with efforts to monitor environmental change. Instead, field collections could sometimes be made using standardised protocols with known sampling effort focussing on long term monitored field sites with known environmental records and vegetation histories.
Tissue subsampling for UltraFreeze Collections should be routine (where possible) but standard operating proceedures are needed to ensure quality and contamination-free subsamples are taken.
Incidental / accidental / opportunistic collecting. During fieldwork, I have frequently found many organisms other than my (often narrow) target species. I have had informal discussions at conferences with colleagues who work on some of these organisms that I accidentally collect, but so far no actual collaborations or exchanges of material have occurred.
What kind of information exchange or network of researchers would we need to promote the collection and sharing of study organisms with other specialists? When I find, say, thrips and mites in the flowers I'm collecting to study the pollinators, can I find someone to send them to, along with necessary (and possibly esoteric) data?
More large-scale deep sea sampling is needed. ROV-based work is wonderful and admittedly essential for some difficult to sample terrains, but one epibenthic sled two can capture more diversity than 20 ROV dives. A large-scale deep-sea sampling effort to improve understanding of small-bodied organisms along the lines of the IceAGE project (http://journals.pan.pl/Content/99571/PDF/10183_Volume35_Issue2_01_paper.pdf?handler=pdf) is needed. The IceAGE project yielded a vast amount of material and has keep diverse taxonomists very busy since the first cruise in 2011.
The ability to collect in the field depends a lot on being able to obtain licences from State Government agencies. This is a can of worms with different laws and processes - that's if you can manage to identify where to go in the first place. On top of that is the onerous task of identifying the land holder and getting their permission - this is especially so in the remote country where boundaries are difficult to identify. The scientific community needs a process similar to Mining Rights which seem to give you access to nearly every area regardless of ownership.
Museums are treasure troves for a huge diversity of taxa from often remote areas. A blitz of collections at all the major museums would make available a huge number of specimens that could be classified to at least a high taxonomic level. It just needs to be resourced!
Indigenous engagement and landowner advocacy
Legal collecting and documentation procedures
Streamlined, consistent permit processing
Training about best practice for collecting and specimen processing and importance of born digital comprehensive data
Ability for collection professionals to be involved in the field!
Broadscale ecological collecting not just taxon collecting - and gold standard collecting (not eco-scraps)
Collecting tissues for future molecular work alongside the voucher
Professional and training bioblitzes
Appropriate recognition for collections staff who manage, care and update the items in perpetuity
More (or better) ideas? Add them here.