From platypus to pollen – TERN is a data goldmine

If you think you have a lot of data to deal with at work, consider this.

In the first four months of 2017, more than a trillion records – that’s a million million – ­were downloaded from a portal created by the Terrestrial Ecosystems Research Network (TERN), hosted at The University of Queensland.

UQ Faculty of Science TERN Acting Director Dr Beryl Morris said TERN’s search portal AEKOS, developed in partnership with the University of Adelaide, is the gateway to Australian ecosystem data.

“We have a diverse range of users representing a wide range of sectors including industries like environmental services, agriculture and mining, and state and federal governments,” she said.

“But the most prolific downloaders come from the higher education and research sector.”

Dr Morris says open data stored in TERN’s portals enabled people around the planet to tap into some wonderful and useful science.

These are services and products that otherwise would not have been available.

People use TERN AEKOS for everything from data archiving to solving ancient pollen questions to platypus sightings.

Operating since 2009, TERN is an Australian Government initiative supported by 17 university partners, 25 state and federal agencies, international partners and other organisations.

“TERN is the national observatory for Australian ecosystems, delivering data to enable environmental research and management,” Dr Morris said.

The Queensland government is a partner and user of TERN, and assisted with data infrastructure for Australia’s first comprehensive state-wide regional ecosystem maps, recently announced by Queensland Ministers Leeanne Enoch and Steven Miles.

Thanks to longstanding collaborations with the Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation (DSITI) and the Queensland Herbarium, TERN’s data infrastructure is assisting the state government to house, update and re-use detailed data on remnant vegetation in Queensland.

An AEKOS data set known as CORVEG is involved in the Queensland regional ecosystem mapping initiative.

The program is available online and is widely used by business, government, research institutions, conservation organisations and land holders.

TERN’s remote sensing data, delivered in partnership with UQ’s School of Environmental and Earth Sciences, feeds into the maps produced by the Queensland Government,” Dr Morris said.

The Queensland Regional Ecosystems (RE) mapping includes both mapping of pre-clearing regional ecosystems and remnant ecosystems present in 2015, documenting ecosystem changes caused by vegetation clearing.

Scientists have visited more than 10,000 study locations across Queensland since 1982 to collect data on physical and vegetation features.

The science leader of DSITI’s Queensland Herbarium, Dr John Neldner, says the resulting CORVEG database is a key data source for users defining, describing and classifying regional ecosystems openly available through the TERN portal.

“TERN provides the conduit for national and global access to this high-value vegetation data so we are highly appreciative of the TERN infrastructure and services,” he said.

DSITI’s Director of Science Information Services, Steve Jones, says TERN’s data infrastructure suited the Queensland Governments needs as data could be accessed under a Creative Commons International 4.0 licence.

“As well as protecting the data by law, publishing under Creative Commons is in line with the Australian and Queensland Government’s move towards greater open access to its information,” he said.

“Working with TERN has been great in focusing our attention on data management and strengthening our internal processes regarding data publishing and licensing.”

CORVEG data and RE mapping is widely used for environmental research and management, such as assessments of vegetation change and estimates of plant abundances, and for modelling of species and ecosystems distributions. Business, government, NGOs and landholders are also users of the information.

Ecologist Dr Steve Murphy of Adaptive NRM is one of the many researchers using the Regional Ecosystems mapping derived from CORVEG.

Dr Murphy says that the mapping has been hugely valuable in efforts to protect and research one of Australia’s most endangered birds, the night parrot.

“A fundamental aspect of our research program has been to identify and describe night parrot habitats,” he said.

“Queensland regional ecosystems mapping is the main tool we use to define habitats at a regional level in western Queensland, where the elusive bird is found.”

Visit the AEKOS portal here or access the DSITI Queensland CORVEG database.