Roles and Responsibilities
The Northern Territory Herbarium is the pre-eminent authority on the identity, distribution and conservation status of NT plants and the Herbarium’s knowledge and information is widely used to answer enquiries regarding this flora. Taxonomic research is also a fundamental role of the Herbarium, in Darwin and Alice Springs. The Herbarium is firstly a research institution concerned with the documentation and conservation assessment of the Territory’s flora. However, staff also play an important role in providing advice to other government agencies and the public, particularly in the form of plant identifications and information on threatened flora and introduced plants.
The Herbaruim holds a curated collection of the Territory’s flora as well as interstate and international collections and is responsible for maintaining a checklist of vascular plants for the Northern Territory in line with the Australian Plant Census. It also conducts surveys of plants of conservation significance and is responsible for periodic reviews of the conservation status of the Northern Territory flora. Species are assessed against IUCN criteria for listing under TPWCA (Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act). Staff are involved in taxonomic research and writing identification guides to the flora of the Northern Territory as well as the maintenance of the preserved collection and associated databases.
A key role of herbaria is to maintain plant collections for future prosperity. Under suitable storage conditions of low temperatures, humidity and light there is no reason why a well collected specimen can’t last indefinitely. The facility in Palmerston is purpose built and allows for safe storage in a tropical environment; however vigilance against agents of damage such as mould, insects and unforeseen disasters must be maintained.
Quarantine of specimens before entering the collection is one such measure. All material must be frozen for a minimum of 72 hours at -18 degrees or less before entry into the collections. This quarantine procedure is part of an integrated pest management plan to minimise risk from insect damage in the safest way possible.
The collection also requires a constant curation effort to keep specimen names up to date and allow easy retrieval of the physical specimen from the collection. The ongoing work of plant taxonomists and associated scientists such as molecular systematists constantly improves our knowledge of the relationships between plant ‘groups’ and individual species. These recent changes need to be frequently updated both digitally and manually to reflect the most recent advances in plant taxonomic knowledge.
The Herbarium has an active field program which is fundamental to regularly updating the Checklist of Vascular Plants, reviewing the conservation status of the flora and documenting the Northern Territory flora. The ongoing collection of specimens is essential for taxonomic research. Over recent years, 13.6 new Northern Territory records or species have been recorded each year, equivalent to 3.6 new records or species per 1000 collections. Quadrat data (full floristic inventory and structural information) is also collected on field trips plus additional information on rare, threatened and poorly known species.
In the Top End, the field program generally extends from March to May, although other surveys are undertaken at certain times of the year to target particular habitats or species for various purposes. In arid regions of the Northern Territory fieldwork is dependant on adequate rainfall events, which are unpredictable and may occur at any time of the year. The suite of short-lived species that appear after a rainfall event at a given locality can vary greatly depending on factors such as ambient temperature and time since disturbance. Consequently it is necessary to revisit collection locations after different rainfall events and post-disturbance conditions to recover the full compliment of species present. There are many regions across theNorthern Territory that are under-sampled, therefore continued sampling is vital to enhance our knowledge of Territory flora. The field program is aligned with NRETAS four year priorities and the Territory Eco-link which is one of Australia’s most important protected areas projects.
Web Applications (Corporate Databases)
The Northern Territory Herbarium has recently initiated the redevelopment of several web applications:
HOLTZE – is the Northern Territory Herbarium specimen database. It is a web application designed in Oracle APEX and was launched in November 2009. The application has many functions to enter and query data, search on specimen data spatially, maintain code tables and generate area checklists. The data is provided dynamically to the Australian Virtual Herbarium (AVH) via a BioCase Provider in HISPID5 standards and equivalent ABCD2. The data, through the AVH, is also provided to the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) and Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).
Flora Northern Territory – is the electronic flora for the Northern Territory. Currently under development and due to be released end of 2011
The Herbarium is involved in many national initiatives and has active roles on national committees such as CHAH Council Heads of Australasian Herbaria.CHAH has a pivotal role in dealing with all major Australiasian Herbarium matters to increase cooperation and understanding between Herbaria. CHAH oversees the development of the Australian Virtual Herbarium with the direction of the technical working group HISCOM Herbarium Information Systems Committee.
The Herbarium, through CHAH, is involved in the Australian Plant Census (APC), integral to providing a list of currently accepted names for the Australian vascular flora, both native and introduced. In line with this, comprehensive bibliographic information exists through the Australian Plant Name Index database (APNI). MAHC (Managers of Australasian Herbarium Collections) is another CHAH endorsed working group which facillitates co-operation between Australasian herbaria specifically concerning MAHC Managers of Australasian Herbarium Collections. The Herbarium delivers input regularly to ensure the success of these national and ongoing projects.
The Herbarium is involved in the International Botanical Congress through organising one of the field trips to Kakadu National Park. The congress is held in Melbourne Australia 23-30 July 2011 for International Botanical Congress (IBC).