Blog

Exciting new ways of exploring biodiversity

By: Paul Flemons, Category: Science, Date: 31 Mar 2010

The Museum is developing new ways to explore and interpret images of biodiversity.

Web application for Flickr queries

 © Ardrian Hardjono

What does a blue butterfly represent to you?

  • Is it a thing of beauty with delicate wings?
  • Is it an Imperial Blue in the family Lycaenidae, an insect of the order Lepidoptera?
  • Could it be a species vulnerable to habitat disturbance?
  • Is it a symbol of freedom?
  • Did you spot one recently in your local area?

In this the International Year of Biodiversity the Australian Museum has been looking to find new and exciting ways of exploring biodiversity. With the advent of inexpensive high quality digital cameras, and mobile phones that can capture good quality photos, there is a huge quantity of images of biodiversity available on the internet − including on museum websites and social media websites such as Flickr.

A challenge we have taken on at the Museum is to find innovative ways in which these images can be explored and interpreted. One of these innovations is using an approach called ‘crowdsourced tagging’, where viewers can add information and comments to images . Searching for images using these tags provides exciting ways of exploring biodiversity and people’s perceptions of it in ways not previously possible. The images, individually and as collections based on tags, become more informative and gain new meanings.

The use of crowdsourced tags, along with more traditional scientific information is providing the basis for the development of exciting new applications for visualising biodiversity images and data, two examples are:
 

  • UNSW’s Icinema group, in collaboration with the Australian Museum, is developing a number of applications that enable a user to explore images and video in a range of ways including 360 degree cinema, a dome cinema and a touch screen. We are developing a touch screen system that will allow users to query Flickr photos using tags and scientific information. This will be on display as part of the Museum's celebrations for the International Year of Biodiversity from 22 May this year.
  • Grant Paisley of Angry Koala has developed an application that enables a user to explore a set of images based on associated scientific information. This has a range of potential applications such as easy-to-use keys for identifying animals or plants, and educational use in exploring biodiversity through images – a very accessible and exciting approach.

These types of applications are particularly suited to exhibitions, online education and citizen science, where they can assist participants in quickly identifying what species they have seen or expect to see in a particular area, and the differences and similarities between species. Apart from being informative they are also just fun and interesting to play with.

Get involved

If you would like to get involved you can go to the Australian Museum Flickr group 'Wildlife Photography with the Australian Museum' and either post up your own photos or simply tag some of those already there. Your images and tags may then become part of the Museum’s display for the International Year of Biodiversity.