Rangelands NRM Blog, News & Resources

News: High tech solution to prickly problem

A new app, appropriately named SPIKEY, has been launched today to solve the prickly problem of identifying spinifex grasses (Triodia).

While they look much the same to most of us, spinifex grasses are some of the most diverse, abundant and ecologically important plants in Australia. Almost one third of our nation is covered in spinifex grasslands.

The Pilbara region of Western Australia, in particular, is rich in spinifex species, where they play a key role in natural environments such as Karijini National Park, in pastoralism, and in mining where they are critical rehabilitation species.

SPIKEY has been developed by Kings Park Science and its partners at the University of Western Australia and the Western Australian Herbarium, to help conserve and rehabilitate spinifex grasslands.

The app is an easy-to-use tool that will allow professionals such as land managers, people working in mine restoration, seed collectors and botanists to readily identify all 28 spinifex species in the Pilbara.

‘It is important we are able to identify individual spinifex species because they are uniquely adapted to living in specific habitats. Matching the right species to the right environment is important in, for example, successful mining rehabilitation’ said Kings Park Research Scientist Dr Matt Barrett, the lead author of both the app and the research behind it.

Years of dedicated research led by Dr Barrett, Kings Park Science and its partners underpins the extensive knowledge contained in the new app, which includes 12 new Pilbara species recently discovered using powerful new genetic tools.

‘Given their diversity and abundance in the Pilbara, spinifex identification is an essential part of solving the rehabilitation puzzle. Some of the new species we have discovered are very rare,’ said Dr Barrett.

The app is co-authored by Drs Matt Barrett from Kings Park Science, PhD graduate Ben Anderson from The University of Western Australia, and Kevin Thiele from the Western Australian Herbarium, with funding from the Pilbara Corridors Project through the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme and an ARC Linkage Project led by the University of WA, Kings Park Science, Rio Tinto Iron Ore, Chevron, and the Department of Parks and Wildlife.

SpiKey is available free of charge for Android and iOS devices from today. You can view it online here.

More details about Spikey and spinifex research in the Pilbara is available from Dr Matt Barrett from Kings Park Science on 0427 081 858.