One million plant specimens to be taken in nine months

One million plant specimens to be taken in nine months

One million plant specimens will be photographed in nine months by a new high-resolution camera at the CSIRO, as researchers look into how the natural world is changing.

Many plant objects collected as far back as a century ago are being stored at the Australian National Herbarium in Canberra, but according to Pete Thrall, the CSIRO group leader for digitisation said it would take about eight years to digitise all of the specimens using a regular camera.

A new 100 megapixel camera, attached to a conveyor belt, will help researchers take up to 5,000 photos per day.

After only a few months, the images will be compiled into a digital collection that can be examined to assess changes to the natural world over time.

Digitising the herbarium is a huge leap forward for sharing specimens for research, Thrall said.

The herbarium's digitized replica provides the security of its irreplaceable physical specimens. More detail is more than meets the eye.

Postdoctoral researcher, Dr Abdelwahed Khamis, said that the higher quality picture could reveal more features of the plants than when using a regular camera or the naked eye.

The leaves, the fruit, the stems, we can do reliable object detection on them from the digital replica, he said.

He said that by digitising plant specimens, the collection would be available for other researchers to examine how plants responded to changes in the natural environment, such as those caused by climate change and extreme weather events.

This is a base task or base assignment that experts can move on from. Thrall said there had already been interest from researchers in studying the long-term effects of the Black Summer bushfires.

He said that knowing what species are there, how rare they are, and what kind of information that we can pull out of collections can help us make those kinds of assessments.