We are digitising our natural history collections to support biodiversity discovery, quarantine, heritage and innovation.

Collections of international significance

Australia is host to more than half a million species of plants and animals. Three quarters of them can be found nowhere else on earth. Our biodiversity is both a treasure to behold and an economically valuable resource.

A 3D reconstruction of an Amycterine Ground Weevil (Gagatophorus draco) generated from an optical scanning rig. © Creative Commons Attribution 3.0|http://dx.doi.org/10.4225/08/531E56A9C6A60

CSIRO’s natural history collections contain more than 15 million specimens dating back to 1780. The specimens represent all major biological groups and cover the entire Australian continent and marine zones, from native and introduced plants to terrestrial vertebrates, invertebrates, fish, algae and tree seeds.

The collections contribute to national and international biological knowledge and underpin a significant part of Australia’s taxonomic, genetic and ecological research.

Digitising our natural history collections

CSIRO’s collections have long been an invaluable resource for research in Australia and internationally. We are now focussing on digitising them to increase access for researchers and the general public.

Digitisation has many benefits:

  • it allows us to share rich information to support biodiversity discovery, species identification and quarantine
  • it connects the Australian people with their cultural and biodiversity heritage
  • it unlocks the billion dollar value investment already made in the 15 million plus specimens in our collections by making them more readily available to the world for science, exploration and innovation.

Digitising more than 15 million specimens is a mammoth task. Specimens in the collections include insect drawers, birds, eggs, mammal bones, algal cultures, plant specimens, seed banks, images, sound recordings, DNA samples and metadata - the information associated with each specimen about where and when it was collected.

Our approach to digitisation varies depending on the specimen type. Some insects are being imaged as whole drawers. A smaller number are being scanned in 3D, like the weevil shown on this page. We aim to digitise our entire herbarium, more than 1.2 million specimens, in detail. To deal with this challenge, we’ll take an industrial approach, using a scanning production line to image each herbarium sheet ready for delivery online.

Delivering the collections online

As we digitise our collections, we are making them available to the public and researchers through the Atlas of Living Australia. The Atlas is a state‐of‐the‐art biodiversity informatics portal that provides free, online access to a vast repository of information about Australia's unique biodiversity.

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