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The Atlas of Living Australia provides information and manages data on threatened species, sensitive or restricted access species based on advice from Commonwealth, state and territory agencies as well as certain data custodians. It’s important to understand the difference between them, how they are handled at the ALA and how they can be correctly used.
Threatened and migratory species
Many factors can be used to determine a species' conservation status (including their status as threatened, migratory or marine), such as: how many individuals are left, population trends over time, known threats, and breeding success. There are global systems for recognising conservation status: the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List is the most well-known.
Australia is also a signatory to international treaties that protect biodiversity. Two important overarching agreements are the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (also known as CITES). There are also a number of agreements protecting migratory birds: the Bonn Convention, the Japan-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement, the China-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement and the Republic of Korea-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement.
Within Australia, there is legislation at Commonwealth level and within each state and territory to conserve and protect Australia’s native species. Each jurisdiction maintains a list of threatened species that are subject to special measures of protection. In most jurisdictions, there are separate lists for terrestrial and marine species. For more details on the legislation, visit the websites of the relevant state and territory agencies.
Threatened and migratory species in the ALA
The ALA shows species conservation status by each jurisdiction, and according to international migratory bird agreements. This status is shown under the species page for a given species and threatened species lists are also available from our conservation status-related lists.
We display conservation information on our species pages with an icon for each state that the species is listed on. Let’s use Lathamus discolor (Swift Parrot) as an example, critically endangered in Australia and the ACT, and Endangered in NSW, QLD, SA, TAS, VIC (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Lathamus discolor (swift parrot) conservation status
As the ALA only derives and displays the lists at various points in time, users should always remember that the most reliable source of information remains the list provided by the relevant Commonwealth, State or Territory agency.
It is equally important to note that the taxonomy that the ALA uses is based on the National Species List maintained by the Australian Biological Resources Study. There are sometimes differences between the scientific names accepted by a state or territory and those accepted nationally. Both the name provided by the agency and the ALA name are shown in the conservation status-related lists.
Lastly, the ALA displays the status as provided by an agency. For example, the tiger quoll (Dasyurus maculatus) has a number of sub-species, such as Dasyurus maculatus maculatus. If an agency has listed Dasyurus maculatus as threatened at species level, then the listing will not be shown at the subspecies level of Dasyurus maculatus maculatus (and vice versa).
Sensitive or Restricted Access species
Many agencies withhold or generalise the exact location of Sensitive or Restricted Access Species. These are species where a conservation agency or data custodian have decided that the exact location of records cannot be made public. This may be for a variety of reasons including sensitivity to disturbance and exploitation, the risk of causing harm to life and property, or economic sensitivity. There is a National Framework on Restricted Access Species Data which talks about the different types of species data that are affected, how this data is treated and how it may be requested.
All states and territories in Australia maintain lists of Sensitive or Restricted Access species. A species does not need to appear on a conservation list or even be native to be considered a sensitive species, however, there is overlap. Several other organisations also maintain lists of sensitive species, including Birdlife Australia, eBird and FrogID.
Sensitive or Restricted Access species lists at the ALA
The ALA generalises data based on State and Territory Sensitive and Restricted Access Species lists as well as data from BirdLife Australia based on their sensitive species list.
We run data sensitivity checks as part of the data upload process. Depending on the nature of the sensitivity, records are either:
- Withheld (e.g. Wollemi Pine)
- Geographic coordinates and sightings are generalised to 10km
- Geographic coordinates and sightings are generalised to 1km
You can find the list of species that are generalised in the ALA on our sensitive species lists.
The ALA plots observation records using decimal latitude and longitude, eg 34.874 degrees south and 124.234 degrees east. Based on advice from agencies or data custodians, the ALA generalises data by 1km or 10 km by removing decimals from the latitude and longitude. If a point was generalised to 10km in the example above, the latitude and longitude would become 34.8 degrees south and 124.2 degrees east.
Some records are simply withheld. The ALA generally does not hold these records.
The Restricted Access Species Data Service provides a convenient mechanism for approved users to request these data from data custodians for agreed uses such as research and government conservation assessment.
Displaying sensitive species information
When looking at an occurrence record of a sensitive species, you will be informed that the record has been modified and information is being withheld. Figure 2 shows the information displayed for a sensitive species. This text will vary depending on the level of sensitivity as outlined above. In this example, information from certain fields are listed as being withheld, such as locality, locationRemarks, and habitat, and the coordinates are rounded to 0.1 degrees.
Figure 2. Sensitive species information withheld for Prasophyllum petilum (Tarengo Leek Orchid).
Which species in a specific location are on threatened or migratory lists?
The best way to access this information is by searching by location. Once you have a list of species in a certain area you can then refine your search using filters, one of the filters available is conservation status. Bear in mind that sensitive species records are generalised and it might be sensible to create a buffer around your area of interest in order to pick up generalised records.
How do I make the location of my sighting non-specific?
The ALA will process any sensitive records according to the rules set by the state and territory governments. If you have records you believe are sensitive but do not appear on the sensitive species lists for the relevant state or territory you can generalise them prior to submission by:
- Reducing the accuracy of location information (coordinates and locality description)
- Changing the precision of the taxonomic information (e.g. providing species instead of subspecies or genus instead of species).
If the records are generalised prior to submission, it is important to indicate this in the records using the “data generalisations” field so that users of the data know that more accurate information is available if needed.
The ALA and iNaturalist work together to generalise data added to iNaturalist based on exactly the same ruleset.
Also, remember that by generalising records yourself you make the records far less useful for research or conservation assessment. We strongly recommend you allow records to be generalised by the ALA based on state or territory lists. This way the data can be passed to researchers or conservation assessments in a correct format.