When the Australasian Virtual Herbarium (AVH) was initiated in 1999, herbaria had for many years been databasing specimens. The AVH was seen as a logical progression from isolated specimen databases in each institution to an aggregated, national database of all specimens. Funding, obtained on the basis that the AVH would stimulate research including taxonomy, was obtained and used to complete the databasing of Australian specimens in all major herbaria, to mount and database backlog specimens, and to develop the AVH infrastructure.
Museums and other zoology (e.g. entomology) collections have also been databasing specimens for many decades. However, no museum collection is fully databased. OZCAM, the museum equivalent of AVH, is also an aggregation service, but museum collections have not had the benefit of a large, national, coordinated, funded campaign to database all specimens. This is a severe constraint on biodiversity inventory, mapping, biogeographic and ecological analyses in Australia.
By 2028 we will have databased half of all specimens in museum and other zoology collections, with a sustainable program to database all specimens within the following decade
Databasing museum and other zoology collections is a substantially bigger task than databasing all herbarium collections. The AVH includes >8 million records, comprising c. 80% of the estimated number of plant, algae and fungi specimens in Australian and New Zealand herbaria. OZCAM includes <4 million Australian records, comprising c. 6% of the estimated total number of specimens in Australian zoological collections. The task is large.
However, the benefits are also very large. The fact that the vast majority of zoological specimens are un-databased precludes us from doing simple tasks like drawing accurate distribution maps for most taxa, assessing the conservation status of taxa, determining where rare taxa occur and whether they occur in sites targeted for development such as mining or agricultural clearing. The AVH is now used by researchers all around the world for novel biodiversity analyses in areas ranging from evolution, ecology, biogeography and conservation, and has amply proven its value. A completed OZCAM would be even more valuable.
We now need to work out a way to invest the necessary effort into our zoological collections.