Deriving greater value from our biological collections
Over the past year, we developed and began implementing a new strategy for increasing the value derived from the biological collections and databases managed by the Defining Land Biota Portfolio. A significant priority-setting exercise with key users resulted in some changes in our research focus, a reprioritisation of effort to increase the accessibility and availability of digitised resources, and the development of online information systems and identification tools. Progress for the last year is exemplified in the following.
External review of our specimen collections
As part of the new strategic approach, we invited Joanne Daly, Strategic Advisor for CSIRO’s Environment Group, to review our biological collections. She assessed current approaches to managing the collections, associated databases and information infrastructure; research direction; end-user engagement; commercialisation; and international best practice. The review process involved both internal and external key stakeholders (including MBIE, MPI, DOC, Te Papa, NIWA, Tūhoe Tuawhenua Trust, Atlas of Living Australia, Heads of Australasian Herbaria, and the Defining Land Biota Advisory Group). The review report identified a number of opportunities to derive greater value, impact and revenue, which we will be exploring in the coming year.
Updated Systematics Collection Data Portal
A new version of the portal enhances access to nearly 380,000 records from all the five collections managed by Defining Land Biota. Search functionality is considerably enriched; users can create and compare sets of specimens (with ‘shopping-cart’ functionality), and download specimen information. These enhancements will benefi t biosecurity and biodiversity end-users.
Land Invertebrates Portal
We launched Ko te Aitanga Pepeke o Aotearoa – the New Zealand Land Invertebrates Portal. The site combines data from the New Zealand Inventory of Biodiversity (NZIB), the Fauna of New Zealand (FNZ) series, and the New Zealand Arthropod Collection (NZAC) Names Database – providing access to information on scientific names, the literature, distribution and collection data, and images associated with the NZAC and the National Nematode Collection of New Zealand, for which Landcare Research is custodian. The portal provides access to c.34,000 taxa names, and links to 17,000 NZAC specimens, images and associated literature of critical importance to conservation and biosecurity management and response.
New invertebrate identification resources
We delivered new resources for a number of high-priority invertebrates, including:
- Identification keys for Bracon parasitoids (wasps), which are important for both biodiversity and biosecurity.
- An updated checklist to the New Zealand Heteroptera, including taxonomic names and biological data for 142 genera and 319 species or biodiversity and biosecurity importance. This research has also resulted in numerous identification keys for end-users.
- Two new publications from the Fauna of New Zealand series, for jawed moths (Lepidopetra: Micropterigidae) and fanniid flies (Diptera: Fanniidae). The former group contains species of conservation importance and the latter are of significance for forensics.
Updated NZFungi database
The NZFungi database is a key resource for a wide range of end-user groups working with fungal and bacterial plant pathogens. Data on bacteria were updated and new records of 429 bacterial names were added. These more complete data are critical for researchers and biotechnology companies wishing to work on New Zealand organisms that are classified as 'new' under the HSNO Act. It also allows MPI to better manage the risks associated with bacterial species detected at the border.
Barcoding Fusarium plant pathogens
Fusarium is a major genus of plant pathogens, but species are very difficult to identify. Molecular technologies offer new solutions. We checked the identity of 600 of the ICMP specimens of Fusarium, using DNA sequences, and were able to provide MPI with a 'barcoding' resource for significantly improved identification of Fusarium isolates detected at the border. These data will also enable the Environmental Protection Authority to assess the risk of 'New to New Zealand' organisms with greater accuracy.
Upgraded eFlora of New Zealand
The open-access eFlora portal provides authoritative and current systematic information for researchers, and for biodiversity and biosecurity operational managers, policymakers and regulators. The web portal has been upgraded, including significant new search and filter functionality, and the availability of PDFs that enable family treatments to be easily downloaded, fully cited and datestamped to indicate that data are up-to-date at that point in time. The botanical text includes keys, synonymy, habitats, distribution and illustrations of the diagnostic features of each species.
New taxonomic treatments submitted for publication include 5 fern families, 15 moss families, and 1 seed plant family. The moss treatments include species with diverse distributional ranges and include naturalised, bipolar, tropical and endemic species found in New Zealand. Mosses have important but subtle ecological roles, e.g. in water retention and hydrology, stabilising exposed surfaces, and providing shelter and humidity for a remarkable diversity of invertebrates. The fern treatments include important invasive species (e.g. Equisetum) and three new native species, all of which are deemed 'Nationally Critical'. One of these occurs in the proposed mining area on the Denniston Plateau, and the identification is enabling DOC and the mining company to be proactive in making long-term plans for the future of these populations. The seed plant family Centrolepidaceae comprises species from vulnerable wetland habitats and includes recognition of an Australian species as an addition to the flora of New Zealand.
New online plant identification resources
- A key to Cotoneaster species, some of which are invasive. The key is fully illustrated and includes colour illustrations of the leaves, flowers, fruit, and seeds to support timely and accurate biosecurity responses.
- A new user-friendly freshwater algae identification guide highly relevant to monitoring water quality and to understanding pressures on our freshwater resources; MfE, regional councils, universities, schools and iwi have welcomed the guide; and usage is high
Global Plants Initiative
As part of the partnership between the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria (CHAH) and the Global Plants Initiative (GPI), supported by the Mellon Foundation, the Allan Herbarium has digitally scanned its Vascular Type Collection. All 1,339 Vascular Type Specimens have been imaged and uploaded to the GPI website enabling researchers from all over New Zealand and the world to view these definitive specimens.
The biological collections host a number of visitors and provide a wide range of training throughout the year. For example, the Allan Herbarium staff hosted:
- Two National Pest Plant Accord Training Workshops organised by MPI. The workshops provided compliance training to regional authority plant pest officers. Biosecurity Officers learnt how to use the weeds interactive Lucid key to identify a range of pest plants they brought to the workshops. This was an excellent promotion of the identification key and end user feedback was positive.
- A two day sedge identification workshop for three teams of DOC staff from the Tier 1 Monitoring programme. Sedges (Cyperaceae) are a large flowering plant group of 226 species and 18 genera, and are a prevalent group of plants found in Tier 1 plots. They are a challenge to identify because of their reduced flowers and small floral parts.
- A wānanga for several iwi to demonstrate value of the Nationally Significant Collections and Databases and the associated services and identification resources.