Bush Blitz is the world's first continental scale survey - a three year multimillion dollar partnership to document the plants and animals in hundreds of properties across Australia's National Reserve System.
Bush Blitz was launched in 2010 - the International Year of Biodiversity. The concept is simple - teams of Australia's top scientists will survey hundreds of Australian reserves to document the native plants and animals they protect. The surveys are expected to uncover hundreds of new species and provide baseline scientific data that will help protect Australia's biodiversity for a generation to come.
A landmark partnership
The project is an innovative partnership led by the Australian Government, involving the global resources company BHP Billiton, not-for-profit conservation research organisation Earthwatch and rangelands survey group the National Scientific Reference Site Network.
The partnership will more than double the amount of funding available for taxonomic research at a national scale in Australia. The Australian Government is investing more than $6 million and BHP Billiton is investing $4 million in Bush Blitz, with Earthwatch managing the in-field health and safety of surveys and coordinating volunteers to work as 'citizen scientists'. The National Scientific Reference Site Network is establishing sites in conjunction with Bush Blitz surveys as benchmarks for the monitoring and protection of biodiversity in the long-term.
Bush Blitz is supported by CSIRO, museums, herbaria and governments across the country, dozens of Australia's top scientists and volunteers.
So much to be explored
In Australia there are many plants and animals yet to be discovered by science, and described and named. Australia is a megadiverse country - with an estimated 566,398 species - but only one quarter of Australia's native species have so far been identified. Forty-five per cent of continental Australia has never been comprehensively surveyed by scientists.
Bush Blitz will provide an unprecedented national snapshot of the native plants and animals protected by Australia's National Reserve System. The National Reserve System is Australia's network of protected areas conserving examples of our natural landscapes and native wildlife for future generations. These protected areas help sustain the living systems that provide us all with health, wealth, food, fuel, water and the vital services our lives depend on.
Covering more than 11 per cent of the continent, the National Reserve System is made up of more than 9,000 properties: national parks and reserves managed by all levels of government, Indigenous lands and protected areas run by non-profit conservation organisations, through to ecosystems formally managed for conservation by farmers as part of their working properties.
How Bush Blitz works
Bush Blitz aims to complete six major surveys per year across the country, with each survey targeting a group of reserves in a particular region. Each survey team will be made up of 10 to 12 scientists, Earthwatch volunteers, team managers, support staff and state and territory agency conservation staff.
For each blitz, the survey team loads their vehicles with survey equipment including traps, reference books, magnifying glasses and plant presses and drive in. They set up a base camp on one of the reserves and start collecting out in the field - searching for frogs, reptiles, mammals, bats, bugs, moths, butterflies, spiders and new plant species.
The field work varies depending on the landscape and the species they are trying to find, but usually involves setting traps, collecting plant specimens and hand searching amongst leaf litter and rocks.
The identification work begins back at base camp, where the survey team will try to identify what they've found using magnifying glasses, field microscopes and reference books. Sometimes they can't - particularly if they have found a new species - so they will take samples away. They use very powerful cameras back at the lab to take magnified photos, which they can send to other experts for study and comparison.
Back at their labs, the researchers will do the taxonomy - if they find a new species they'll describe it, name it, allocate it to the species family tree and the specimen they collect becomes the holotype. The holotype is the gold standard - the reference specimen against which all other specimens will always be compared.
Once the species has been identified, all that information is shared online so other researchers can use it (through Australia's Virtual Herbarium for plants or the Australian Zoological Catalogue of Australian Museums for animals). Each year the information collected by Bush Blitz teams will be collated into a major report on the state of Australia's biodiversity.
You can follow the Bush Blitz team's progress through the Bush Blitz website at bushblitz.org.au
For more information on Australia's National Reserve System, please visit environment.gov.au/nrs