Marine Plants Project

The Department of Parks and Wildlife’s WA Herbarium has an extensive collection of macroalgae and seagrasses from Western Australia’s marine areas and estuaries.

The Marine Plant Project will provide ready access to authoritative current names for WA’s marine flora and access to over 20,000 specimen details, including geographic localities, habitat information and, where available, images.

Electronically captured information on the State’s marine plants is integrated within the information delivery system FloraBase. Current names, images, descriptions and the known distribution of land vascular plants, based on WA Herbarium holdings, have been available electronically through FloraBase since 1995 and descriptions of taxa are gradually being added to progress the on-line flora of Western Australia. The Marine Plant Project will eventually provide species descriptions and tools for species identification of WA’s marine plants in the same way as those progressively being made available for land vascular flora.

The Marine Plant Project is a joint venture between the Department of Parks and Wildlife’s Western Australian Herbarium and Marine Science Program, with close collaboration from CSIRO, Murdoch University and the University of WA.

Initial funding received from Coastwest/Coastcare in 2003 enabled inventory of the marine plant collections that were housed at various locations in Perth and the development of a plan to database all collections. The WA Herbarium’s curator of algae, Cheryl Parker, was appointed Project Manager and the number of specimens, their curatorial status and estimated number of undetermined specimens were gathered from collections housed at CSIRO laboratories, Murdoch University and The University of Western Australia. The WA Herbarium already housed a collection of 6,000 macroalgae and marine and estuarine angiosperms; all databased but with many unnamed specimens.

Initial funding also allowed databasing of some specimens housed in other herbaria. Collections were brought to the WA Herbarium and trained database operators entered the specimen label information, verified the locality and recorded latitude and longitude co-ordinates for each specimen location.

The second stage of funding was obtained from a Natural Heritage Trust grant in 2005. This enabled the completion of specimen databasing and the appointment of an experienced Phycologist, Dr John Huisman, who was contracted to verify or update names on specimens and identify unnamed specimens and images considered suitable for inclusion in the on-line Marine Plants information system within FloraBase. A major task assigned to Dr Huisman was the updating of the WA Marine Plants census.

The specimen database is supported by an authoritative census of WA’s Marine Plants with over 1,000 macro-algae and marine flowering plant species, together with references to other sources of information about them. The comprehensive work carried out by Dr Roberta Cowan from Murdoch University in compiling the Australian Marine Algal Name Index (AMANI) is acknowledged as a basis for the WA Marine Plant Census.

All of WA’s marine macro algae specimens are now housed in the WA Herbarium algal herbarium and over 14,000 have been databased and added to the original WA algal herbarium of 6,000 sheets.

Well-prepared collections form the basis of all marine plant studies. A specimen has little scientific value unless detailed notes are recorded at the time of collection. The guidelines included in ‘How to Collect and Document Marine Plants’ (Huisman and Parker 2005) will ensure that those undertaking marine studies efficiently collect and document new collections of marine flora to extend the information base available to researchers, community groups and volunteers. In 2007 the project was successful in obtaining an Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS) grant with funding for three years. This part of the project provided approximately 1000 online species descriptions of Western Australian marine benthic algae, accessible through FloraBase. This information was not currently available online, and if available in printed form it was included in an assortment of publications, many of which were no longer in print. In addition to the written descriptions, photographic illustrations and/or line drawings were provided, where available.

Development of the Marine Plant Project thus far has delivered online:

  • authoritative, up-to-date names for the approximately 1,000 species of marine macroalgae listed to date for WA
  • distribution maps based on geocodes of specimens
  • diagnostic descriptions, habitat details and distribution for over 1,000 taxa
  • images of species where available
  • How to Collect and Document Marine Plants — guidelines for collecting algae to add to the growing knowledge base.

A number of example descriptions of marine plants are available as follows:

The Project seeks funds for future stages to continue to maintain the census of WA marine plants, as new taxa and records are regularly added to the Herbarium’s collection. Further developments will enable on-line identification through interactive keys to the genera of Australian benthic marine algae, thereby giving the user a relatively easy means to identify taxa, plus immediate access to descriptions and illustrations.

Project Sponsors

Department of Parks and Wildlife Natural Heritage Trust

Illustrations

Brown alga Platythalia quercifolia
Brown alga Platythalia quercifolia

Brown alga Cystophora racemosa
Brown alga Cystophora racemosa

Red alga Trichogloea requienii
Red alga Trichogloea requienii

Red alga Asteromenia exanimans
Red alga Asteromenia exanimans

Seagrass Posidonia australis
Seagrass Posidonia australis