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The challenge

One of the highest areas of plant species diversity in Australia and the world

Australian tropical rainforests are renowned globally for the very rich diversity of plant species. At the heart of this diversity is the Wet Tropics World Heritage area in north Queensland which is ranked sixth among all global sites and second among World Heritage sites for its irreplaceable endemic species and threatened species.

Tropical rainforest known as cloudland habitat.

Understanding what species we have, how many there are, and where they are found is key to conservation, management, research, education, utilisation and so much more. This knowledge relies heavily on taxonomic research and good identification tools.

Identification is a real challenge with nearly 3000 plant species living in rainforests from northern Queensland and across the north of Australia from Cape York, the Northern Territory to the Kimberley of Western Australia.

Our response

An ID key for industry, researchers, education and the public

We like to call it the ‘RFK’ (or Rainforest Key), but it is formally known as the ‘Australian Tropical Rainforest Plants Identification System’. The RFK is an identification system for all rainforest plants in northern Australia.

Screen shot from the mobile app.

The RFK has a very long history and to date eight editions have been published. We continue to add species and functionality with each new edition and utilise current technology available to deliver it.

The first two generations of the identification system were card keys, published in 1971 and 1982 and were designed to be used in the field by workers. In 1993, the 3rd edition of the RFK was the first computer-based plant identification system in the world to be developed, and covered 1056 species.In 2010 the system went online for the first time and included 2553 species. Now, the 8th edition is available for use free online or downloadable as an app for use offline.

RFK edition 8 was built using LUCIDTM software. It is an identification tool that can be used regardless of which features of the plant are available to the user, such as leaves, flowers, fruits and juveniles.

The information in the identification system is complemented by species profiles that describe each species and over 14,000 images that help to illustrate them.

The RFK is built on the knowledge base of the Australian Tropical Herbarium, which houses more than 190 000 specimens mostly from tropical Australia.

The results

An easy-to-use, essential resource

The RFK is the definitive resource for identifying rainforest plants in northern Australia. It is used by groups spanning conservation, education, research, forestry and managment. Monthly over 15 000 visit the website.

The newest edition of the RFK includes:

  • The inclusion of more species, updated taxonomic concepts and names
  • updated species profiles and additional images
  • a mobile app.

The Android and Apple App editions of the RFK can be downloaded from the Google Play and iTunes app stores for $19.99.

Home screen for the identification program on its website.

RFK collaboration

The RFK has been developed by CSIRO for over 50 years by many people, in particular Dr Bernie Hyland (retired) who was the orignator and lead developer for most of this time. This edition of the RFK was produced as a collaboration between Identic Pty Ltd, the Australian Biological Resources Study and the Australian Tropical Herbarium. The Australian Tropical Herbarium is a joint venture of CSIRO through the Australian National Herbarium (part of the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research), James Cook Univeristy and the Queensland Government.

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