Better living through informatics: in search of koalas

In 2015, I’d like to write, think and do more about things that I care about. One of those things happens to be the koala. Now, this being a blog about bioinformatics and computational biology, I can’t just start writing about any old thing that takes my fancy…I guess. So in this post I’m going to stretch the definition to include ecological informatics and tell you the story of how I achieved a long-held ambition using one of my favourite online resources, The Atlas of Living Australia. And then we’ll wrap up with a quick survey of the (sorry) state of marsupial genomics.
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A brief ecological interlude: iNaturalist

Recently, I was toying with ideas for fun side projects involving web applications. “Here’s a good one”, I thought, “a place for amateur naturalists to record their observations.” They could upload photos, place items on a Google Map, tag items and all manner of web 2.0 stuff. Over time, with enough users, such a site might even become a valuable conservation resource, allowing data miners to see interesting changes over time.

Today, via FriendFeed, I discovered that someone else also likes the idea. I’m delighted, since I’ve long since abandoned all hope of even starting a fun side project; I lack both the requisite skills and the time to learn them. If these ideas appeal to you, please visit iNaturalist. Better still, post some feedback at their Google Group.

It’s a site that will only succeed with users and for that, they need a slick interface that makes data entry simple, quick, fun and comprehensive. Not quite good enough to persuade me to enter observations just yet, but I’ll be following their progress with interest.

Fungal collage

FungiThere’s a lot to love about Fraser Island. Its original name, K’gari, means paradise and they weren’t wrong. One feature that you won’t read about in the tourist brochures is an incredible variety of colourful fungi.

This collage illustrates a few that we encountered on our travels (click for full-size). I’d like to claim it as my own, but it’s the work of my talented better half.

Maybe the fungal genomes crew can put a name to some of them?

I discovered EarthPortal via an intriguing post by John Wilkins. They describe themselves thus:

clipped from

The Earth Portal is a comprehensive resource for timely, objective, science-based information about the environment. It is a means for the global scientific community to come together to produce the first free, expert-driven, massively scaleable information resource on the environment, and to engage civil society in a public dialogue on the role of environmental issues in human affairs. It contains no commercial advertising and reaches a large global audience.

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My first impression is very good. Lots of interesting content (all creative commons licensed), good presentation, RSS feeds. If you’re interested in environmental news, go take a look.

Unexpected shaking

0_50.gif You don’t see this everyday – an earthquake in the UK, large enough to cause damage. The thumbnail will take you to the USGS Earthquake Hazard website, a great source of near-real-time data for your mashups.

I was at the epicentre of a magnitude 5 earthquake in the UK on Boxing Day in 1979. It was strong enough to shake the baubles from the Christmas tree and move furniture but to my lasting regret, I slept through the entire event.