collections, research, observation, imaging













ANIC 15 july—This was my second visit to this collection and meeting with Dr. La Salle: part of my continuing research for a series of work (The Real Thing) I’d visited ANIC in January 2011looking for specimens of the Thynnine wasp which had been suggested as the pollinator for a threatened species of Spider-orchid Caladenia concolor that occurs in North East Victoria.


Walking through the corridors of cabinets John describes his own research of (another) wasp, the parasitic Hymenoptera wasp. Its value for agriculture (in controlling the invasive gall wasps of Eucalyptus forests) and its significance for the biodiversity of ecosystems is clear from the dramatic photos of forests where it has and hasn’t been present. The small size of Hymenoptera illustrates how crucial microscopy is in this research and the scans shown here reveal the dramatic shift in comprehending its internal structure and morphology.

This insight into John’s research of the wasp, his demonstration of the award winning Remote Microscope, the capability of a “virtual taxonomy lab” (between ANIC and Beijing) and the concept of the 10-12 million specimens in these cabinets, indicates the value of optical technologies, scanning and visualisation across the work of the ANIC. Imaging the morphology of microscopic features,  scanning whole trays of specimens and their labels and accessing these digitally allows for comparative observation and  ‘management’ of the collection, the Remote Microscope makes it possible for specimens found in geographically remote locations to be identified quickly — from images rather than the physical specimen being sent across the country. While applications of imaging  and  visualisation underpin the research and task of maintaining  the  material in this collection, it also contributes to the dissemination of information as well as developing and extending its content. Additional information on the collection can be found at


ANIC (and the other CSIRO biological collections) is a  leading partner in the collaborative project to developing the online resource of biological information—The Atlas of Living Australia. The Atlas will provide online information on Australian species of plants and animals and build on the biodiversity information held in museums, herbaria and biological collections across the country.


In the midst of these conversations and meetings is a weekend visit to James Turrell’s skyscape “Within without” at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA). As he says “its about seeing”, and immersion in the dome certainly is about perception of natural phenomena— ephemeral clouds, air, sky, colour its a total experience [of seeing] that resonates in certain ways with the observation, visualisation and perception of the millions of specimens in the biological collections at CSIRO.


In following days there are visits to other Biological Collections, meetings and conversations with CSIRO staff members from, Research Facilities, Discovery Centre and visual artists all to discuss different aspects of the project. At the first of these (Monday 18) at the Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG) is an afternoon meeting with Murray Fagg to discuss the scope of his work and the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research (CANBR).

Refer to <>. Murray’s comprehensive knowledge of ANBG, the CANBR, appreciation of the relationship between the range of organisations, research and the CSIRO Biological collections is invaluable. Murray contributes a number of suggestions for the direction of the research and we visit the Cryptogam Herbarium (plants that reproduce without seeds such as mosses, lichens, algae, fungi and ferns) for a chance meeting with researchers Heino Lepp, Judith Curnow and the Herbarium’s curator Dr. Christine Cargill. This is an opportunity for a very brief conversation about their research, the collection and how it may feature in aspects of this residency project. In looking at the links between these collections and their uses of imaging technologies I am tracing the complex ecology of the Crimson Spider orchid —its pollinator (still to be determined), the pheromone it secrets and the mycorrhizal fungi needed for its seeds to germinate.


Away from the Biological Collections (9/7) and back at CSIRO Discovery there are other conversations: with Discovery’s director Cris Kennedy about the concept for publication/symposium in 2012, the exhibition and art work for the project, the scope and role of CSIRO research and its applications and the biological collections in Victoria, Tasmania and WA. There is general and practical organizing to do— identifying who to contact in the other collections and arranging visits and setting-up a place to work from while I’m here. The artist and lecturer John Pratt from ANU School of Art visits the Re-Imaging Nature exhibition and tells me about (ANU) School’s Beam Project that may be relevant in my own plan to develop projections in this residency. Following this meeting is a guided tour of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility — The High Resolution Plant Phenomics Centre. This isn’t a collection like the ones I’ve described where specimens are collected together and systematically organized and then researched, it is a research facility that has been setup for genome sequencing and plant biology, the specimens are in controlled conditions that support the development of plants and crops for commercial contexts. The plant specimen(s) I see are growing in cabinets where moisture and light are monitored and analyzed. The 3D camera (multi-view stereovision), infrared camera and Fluor Cam (fluorescence imaging) are central to this work. This imaging and monitoring extends to field sites and on a display of photos of these sites are the brightly coloured and patterned visualizations of the data that result from these monitored techniques.



In the afternoon I meet up with CSIRO’s Dr. Beth Mantle (Manager of the National Insect Collection), who has just returned from a research trip in central Australia, — as John La Salle had described to me the week before, Beth was able to send images of insects from the field to colleagues in ANIC for identification and analysis. In the first week of August I’m returning to Canberra and have arranged to visit two other collections the National Herbarium and the Soil Archive, in the intervening time I continue the process of thinking about, sorting and editing the material I have gathered so far.




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