Understanding native plant distributions – a major data project

By Tony Maxwell

This article explains the project and data available on the APS NSW website here.

The origin of the plant distribution project

I might describe this as the ultimate retirement activity – hope I get to finish it. It started in 1986 on a camping holiday with family and friends at Gerroa on the south coast. I had always been a bit of a geography freak which was unfashionable then and undoubtedly still is. I picked up a small book in Gerringong called Native Trees of Central Illawarra by Leon Fuller and Kevin Mills. It was packed full of information on trees and their distributions in the district. Later I obtained the companion volume Wollongong’s Native Trees by Leon Fuller and I became hooked on native plants and their locations.

I started gathering data and background material – initially Sydney region then eastern NSW then south east Australia. I identified about 200 areas in the region from Carnarvon Gorge in Central Queensland, down through south east Queensland then eastern NSW then all Victoria and finally south east South Australia including the Flinders Ranges, Eyre Peninsula and Kangaroo Island. I concentrated on reserved areas of various types and avoided grazing, cropping and urban locations. Areas are usually large enough to contain a reasonable number of species, and variation in area size and sampling density variability are accommodated by looking at % data as appropriate.

Data sources

Data is obtained from reputable, publicly available sources including Plantnet, NPWS Bionet, Atlas Living Australia (ALA) and many others. Source data has been accumulated over the years and is now stored electronically for all areas. Plant taxonomy is based on the Sydney Herbarium system as eastern NSW is the heart of the project. NPWS Bionet and Atlas Living Australia are the two major sources in NSW and they both provide occurrences numbers. I have combined those numbers to maximise coverage. The resulting lists and occurrence data provide the best distribution information available for the nominated areas.

Current status in July 2020

I have now completed spreadsheets for coastal and near coastal regions from the Hunter to the Victoria border. I am currently working on the mountain regions in southern NSW and will then revert to northern NSW. There is a lot of work to translate the source data onto the final spreadsheets and the process is not fast. I am not including exotics. Data is presented at species level because subspecies and variety information is often fragmented, incomplete and prone to error.

Accessing the information

The data is presented as more “digestible” regional chunks in spreadsheets on the APS NSW website here together with maps of each area. Anyone can easily download these lists and zoom in on segments of interest. Thumbnail multi area maps for single species or groups of species are also available. The files are Microsoft Excel but will also download into Mac Numbers spreadsheets.

Purpose of the project – why do all this?

The project aims to:

  • Promote bottom up activities by APS members
  • Ensure that APS members know where native plants are
  • Provide prompts and benchmarking for bushwalking activities and lists
  • Provide prompts and benchmarking for bushfire recovery and other changes due to global warming
  • Assist activities to conserve Rare and Endangered species
  • Augment our traditional stories and pictures with hard data to promote more fruitful communications.

Contact Tony Maxwell

For any questions about the project or the spreadsheets, please contact Tony Maxwell, tonymax@optusnet.com.au.