SWAEI Data Project

A while back we sent a bunch of DVDs out that contained a wealth of information about the state of Western Australia’s environment, under the SWAEI Data Project (the Data project from here on in).




SWAEI is the South-West Australian Ecoregion Initiative, a consortium of agencies and organizations who we are also working with on a much larger Systematic Conservation Planning(SCP) project.  The SCP project is a whole different ball-game, but the Data project nicely leads us from preparing and gathering data to actually using that data in the SCP project.  The SWAEI region itself is pretty darn large!




Akeal’s been the primary worker on the Data project, with a lot of support from Jeff Richardson, who recently moved on from the Department of Environment and Conservation.  Akeal spent a big part of the first half of this year learning just how much fun taxonomy really is!  In a nutshell, the project involved:


  • Gathering data from a range of sources (including the Western Australian Museum, Western Australian Herbarium and Birds Australia, among others)
  • Standardising the taxonomy throughout these datasets (this was the longest task)
  • Preparing a range of products for the sponsoring institutions including datasets and tables.




As with both of our SWAEI projects, we had the involvement of many experts from a range of fields in the project, guiding us as to what we needed to do with particular data.  We had guidance on things like taxonomy updates (why is that bird called two things in two datasets?), data issues (what does a “C” mean for endangered flora?) and a lot of discussions about data licencing towards the end of the project.




Unfortunately, despite our asking, many of the institutions that provided data to the project didn’t provide metadata.  This is a major issue, and it’s been an ongoing issue with both of the SWAEI projects.  Akeal, Mel and I have all been quite disappointed with not only the lack of metadata on data we’ve been provided, but also the quality of the data.  Metadata’s one of the boring aspects of our work, but it’s important – and even though we all wish it wasn’t there, it should be.




Once the data was cleaned, Akeal then also worked through a range of other processes.  He worked on calculating geodesic distances to find the range of species, calculating endemic species for the SWAEI region, updating conservation status, backfilling taxonomic information back up to the Phylum level and managing the confidential nature of a range of sensitive data, like the rare and endangered flora and fauna species.  Most of this was done on datasets with over a million points.




The end result?  A lot of data for the SWAEI region…. for both fauna and flora.


In Akeal’s own words:


All in all though, this project was a great learning experience, sometimes to just observe how and why things were happening. It didn’t involve only technical GIS like I am mostly used to, but I managed to speak with quite a few people and received heaps of advice from them. This is actually the first project I have worked on where I really needed expert opinions on biological data and datasets.




Big biological data projects like this are always challenging.  We had a process behind it that involved a wide range of people and evolved as the project went on.  Personally, I was really happy with the outcome – it was a massive project that Akeal (and Charlotte!) worked very hard on and deserve a lot of credit for completing.




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