Open Source Spatial Tools for Biodiversity and Environmental Data in the Atlas of Living Australia

The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA: has around 75 million species records and over 500 regional, national and international spatial layers that relate in some way to the understanding and management of the environment. This biological and environmental data provides a significant resource for visualising the environment of the Australian region. For example, we can see where species occur, and what the environmental characteristics are of any area of land or ocean in the Australian region. 

Data in the ALA is open and freely available for reuse in with the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy open data policy. Upon loading, each new record is standardized and spatially sampled across all environmental layers creating a complex wide record indexed by these values and retrievable at web speed.

The ALA is built on a completely open source service-oriented architecture with all code published to GitHub. 
 All of the content available on ALA’s software platforms is delivered through underlying web services which in turn are freely available through the public application programming interface (API: This flexible architecture has allowed for downstream applications to use the same data services across multiple use cases. For example, the same set of web services are used across the ALA’s main web portal, the Biodiversity Information Explorer, the more complex Spatial Portal and ALA4R, an R package for accessing species occurrence data and ALA tools.

The Spatial Portal ( integrates data, analysis and visualization tools in a systematic environment. In this interface, users can explore species and their attributes, environments and their interactions, all with a spatial emphasis. Seventeen tools are available to help understand the interactions of points and areas, for example point densities can be produced, or the evaluation of the conservation status of species across multiple jurisdictions. Import and exporting of points uses CSV and Excel® formats, and areas using shapefiles, KML or WKT formats.

ALA4R ( complements the Spatial Portal functionality for those more comfortable or efficient in the R environment. The package provides access to most ALA data and a range of spatial tools.

Presentation type: Full length
Session: Data Matters


Peggy Newman

Peggy is the theme lead for Environmental Sustainability and Ecosciences at the Atlas of Living Australia, which encompasses several spatial analysis platforms including the Spatial Portal, ALA4R, and ZoaTrack.