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About the collections

The National Research Collections Australia are a vital resource for conservation and science. The collections underpin research in agriculture, biosecurity, biodiversity and climate change and are used by researchers all over the world.

Historically, biological collections have been used mainly to classify species and establish their evolutionary relationships. Today, the impact of the National Research Collections Australia stretches far beyond this, touching many areas of science and everyday life.

Our insect collection supports reliable identification of pests at Australia’s borders. Voucher specimens held by our fish collection underpin standardised names for commercial fishes, improving user trust for Australian seafood. Birds in the wildlife collection reveal how some species and their distributions are changing due to climate change. The herbarium has provided data from its holdings about plants of the Kokoda Track to help the PNG Government manage tourism and conservation in the area. Our microalgae collection led to the development of crops containing omega-3 oils. The tree seed centre has provided germplasm that underpins the conservation and breeding populations of many of the world’s most import eucalypt and acacia species.

Read our latest environment research news on our blog

The oldest specimen in the Australian National Herbarium was collected in 1770 by Joseph Banks.

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Australian National Herbarium (ANH)

The Australian National Herbarium (ANH) is one of the largest plant collections in the country, providing crucial information on Australia's native flora.

With a focus on Australian plants and those of neighbouring regions such as Papua New Guinea and the Pacific, the herbarium has more than 1.5 million specimens held in Canberra and in the additional holdings at the Australian Tropical Herbarium in Cairns. The collection includes the Dadswell Memorial Wood Collection and comprehensive holdings of cryptogams, eucalypts and orchids. The Australian National Herbarium is part of the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research, a joint venture between Parks Australia’s Australian National Botanic Gardens and CSIRO.

Read more about the ANH

Seeds of the past

The oldest living seedlot in the Australian Tree Seed Centre (Acacia triptera from Gilgandra, NSW) was collected in 1963.
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Australian Tree Seed Centre (ATSC)

The Australian Tree Seed Centre is a collection and research centre for Australian native trees. For more than 50 years the centre has been collecting, researching and supplying quality, fully documented tree seed to both domestic and overseas customers. Collections of seed are sourced from wild populations and genetically improved seed is sourced from our domestication and improvement programs.

Read more about ATSC

The Australian National Insect Collection holds 12 million specimens, including a weevil collected by Charles Darwin at King George Sound (present-day Albany, WA) in March 1836.

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Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC)

The Australian National Insect Collection is recognised both nationally and internationally as a major research collection.

ANIC houses over 12 million specimens in Canberra. It is the world’s largest collection of Australian insects and includes other invertebrates such as nematodes, mites, spiders, earthworms, scorpions and centipedes. ANIC is the nation’s hard drive of insect biodiversity, an authoritative physical reference point for identifying known and newly discovered species. Research outcomes based on ANIC specimens inform biodiversity, biosecurity and conservation research. ANIC runs workshops on insect and nematode identification for various government departments.

Find out more about ANIC

We hold almost 200 000 irreplaceable scientific specimens of wildlife

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Australian National Wildlife Collection (ANWC)

Our Australian National Wildlife Collection provides important information on Australia's wildlife heritage

Specialising in terrestrial vertebrates, ANWC contains specimens of 823 species of Australian birds and many of its mammals, reptiles and amphibians, as well as a rich collection of birds from New Guinea. It also holds more than 100,000 recordings of wildlife sounds, more than 30,000 tissue samples, and eggs of most Australian birds.

Find out more about ANWC

The Australian National Fish Collection contains more than 150,000 specimens.

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Australian National Fish Collection (ANFC)

Our collection helps sustainably manage Australia’s marine biodiversity.

Specialising in marine fishes, the ANFC in Hobart began informally in 1943 and now contains more than 150,000 specimens, along with images and radiographs representing more than 3,000 species from the Indo-Pacific region. The collection’s major strengths are sharks, rays, and deepwater fishes. ANFC is an invaluable resource for biodiversity and biogeographic research on Australian and Indo-Pacific fishes, supporting conservation and fisheries management.

Read more about ANFC

The Australian National Algae Supply Service provides microalgae strains to institutions in more than 70 countries.

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Australian National Algae Culture Collection (ANACC)

Housed in Hobart, ANACC holds living cultures of more than 1000 strains of microalgae species.

The collection is used to research algal biodiversity and distribution, including both strains of economic importance and environmental concern. The Australian National Algae Supply Service provides microalgae strains as starter cultures to industry, research organisations and educational institutions in more than 70 countries.

Read more about ANACC

The important work we do

Genomics

Biological collections are a giant warehouse of genetic traits that are useful for industry.

Genomics is helping researchers to discover genetic resources to enhance crops, develop new materials for manufacturing, and gain insights into biological processes that can give our industries an edge. Genomics is also helping to identify threats to our biodiversity, conserve species and ecosystems and maintain the resilience of Australia’s natural environment.

Environomics - Future Science Platform

Digitisation

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

Digitisation has many benefits including:

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

As we digitise our collections, we are making them available to the public and researchers through the Atlas of Living Australia .

Digitising the National Research Collections Australia

[Music plays and an image appears of bee specimens underneath a glass cover and the camera scrolls up the collection specimens and the CSIRO logo appears]

[Text appears over the specimens: Digitising the National Research Collections Australia]

[Image changes to show a hand changing a camera lens and then the image changes to show a hand working with a pair of tweezers]

[Image changes to show a hand reaching into a one of six specimen buckets in an esky and bringing out a type of sea creature and the camera zooms in on the creature]

[Images move through of a male walking down a corridor and opening a drawer, bee specimens in the drawer and two females working on insect collections]

Simon Checksfield: The National Research Collections Australia at CSIRO houses about 15 million plus biological specimens.

[Image changes to show Simon Checksfield talking to the camera and text appears: Simon Checksfield, National Research Collections Australia]

The grand purpose in digitising our collections is to unlock the information in the physical world and release it into the digital world.

[Image changes to show a female working on a specimen and then the camera zooms in on the specimen she is working on and then the image changes to show the female working on a computer]

At the Australian National Insect Collection, we are going through a project currently to digitise our bee collection.

[Image changes to show a bee specimen with label information next to it]

Citizen Scientists are helping us with our transcription of the label information of the bee images we are taking.

[Image changes to show a side view of a bee specimen and then the image changes to show Nicole Fisher talking to the camera and text appears: Nicole Fisher, National Research Collections Australia]

Nicole Fisher: We are digitising the collection so that we can secure our data that’s associated with the specimens and then get it online available for other researchers to use.

[Image changes to show Simon Checksfield talking to the camera and then the image changes to show employees working on specimen collections and then the camera zooms in on the specimens]

Simon Checksfield: Pollination is critical to the food supply chain and understanding how the bees fit into that and understanding the problems that the global bee community is facing is very critical.

[Music plays and image changes to show people on the deck of a research boat and then the image changes to show people on the boat working with specimens in tubs]

[Image changes to show John Pogonoski talking to the camera and displaying a fish species and text appears: John Pogonoski, Australian National Fish Collection]

John Pogonoski: This is one of five species of fish that came up from 4,000 metres deep earlier today off Newcastle in New South Wales.

[Camera zooms in on the fish specimen he is holding and then the camera zooms out to show John holding the fish specimen and talking to the camera]

It’s a species of gelatinous cusk eel. I’m not sure what species it is yet but when we get it back to the collections we can do x-rays and determine that.

[Images flash through of researchers working on a bench with marine specimens and then the image changes to show a view looking down on the specimens]

Simon Checksfield: FishMap is a great example of digitisation having an industry impact.

[Image changes to show the FishMap webpages displaying an Australian map and a species of fish]

FishMap lets people find out about fish species distribution in Australia’s oceans.

[Image changes to show Brendan Lepschi seated at a desk looking at a specimen on a page and then the camera zooms in on the specimen]

Brendan Lepschi: We’re digitising all the type specimens at the Australian National Herbarium.

[Image changes to show Brendan talking to the camera and text appears: Brendan Lepschi, Australian National Herbarium]

Our plant specimens are used for research in taxonomy, biodiversity, conversation and biosecurity.

[Image changes to show a specimen page of a daisy and then the image changes to show a profile view of Brendan’s face]

The specimen images are available worldwide for researchers to use.

[Image changes to show the daisy specimen and then the image changes to show Brendan talking to the camera]

This specimen is a daisy and it’s part of a group that’s widespread in tropical America and is weedy in Australia.

[Image changes to show information on the Atlas of Living Australia webpage and various information on the site scrolls through]

We’re making data available through the Atlas of Living Australia and also through Australia’s virtual herbarium. The data’s publicly available. It’s free and anyone, anywhere can use that data.

[Music plays and images move through of a daisy head and then Dr Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn picking up seeds with tweezers and putting them in a petri dish]

Dr Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn: We are photographing seeds of weedy daisies.

[Image changes to show Dr Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn talking to the camera and then Alexander as he is working on a computer and text appears: Dr Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn, Australian National Herbarium]

The main risks of introducing new seeds are a, that a new species of weed establishes or that population of an existing weed gets strengthened by new genetic diversity.

[Image changes to show the online identification key on the computer screen and then an image of a seed appears on the screen superimposed over the information]

The photographs are going to be used to illustrate an online identification key. The key will be used to identify seeds that are being brought into the country accidentally on cargo.

[Images move through of a male looking into an open specimen drawer, the bee specimens in the drawer, the male taking out one of the small specimen boxes and Nicole talking to the camera]

Nicole Fisher: We’re already starting to see huge impacts where researchers have been able to use the data held within collections to better inform areas such as biosecurity, biodiversity and climate change.

[Image changes to show Simon talking to the camera and then the image changes to show specimens in a petri dish under a microscope and then a fish specimen in a jar]

Simon Checksfield: For us, the success of digitising is if someone does something with that information that we’ve never thought of before.

[Music plays and the image changes to show a female working with specimens and then the image changes to show a black screen and the CSIRO logo and text appears: Australia’s innovation catalyst]

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Find out more about digitisation of our natural history collections.