AuScribe: AusPlots Field Survey App

Tooling to support simple, efficient and accurate field data collection is now available for ecologists working across the Australian outback, thanks to a new field survey app, developed by TERN AusPlots.

The AusPlots Field Survey App, called AuScribe, helps ecologists by automating data entry in the field, which saves time and money, and increases accuracy. AuScribe creates consistent, complete, and clean data that can be published with no further effort by the collector, allowing them to spend more time analysing and synthesising the data and producing useful outcomes for the science and management communities.

Using AuScribe, researchers can take a number of plant and general site measurements in line with the methods described in the AusPlots Rangelands Survey Protocols Manual, which anyone can download from the TERN website.

‘The AusPlots Android app operates just like any other mobile or tablet app,’ says Andrew Tokmakoff, AusPlots’ Technical Lead.  ‘Users interact with the touch-screen to enter, edit and transmit collected field data.’

‘It’s designed to be intuitive and easy to use even when collecting complex field data such as Point Intercept data,’ says Andrew. ‘It has elements that allow users to enter general data on the monitoring site, and detailed vegetation species and structure data using a number of AusPlots survey modules.’

AuScribe, the AusPlots Field Survey App, helps ecologists enter field data using the AusPlots survey modules (above left), including ‘point intercept data’ (above right), and links to storage and curation facilities (below), including the ÆKOS data portal.

Following data collection in the field, the data are transferred from the app to AusPlots’ cloud-based server infrastructure where it can be curated and linked to TERN Eco-informatics’ Australian Ecological Knowledge and Observation System (ÆKOS).  ÆKOS provides a secure place where the data can reside, be retrievable and citable, become of great value to many researchers, and persist beyond the career of an individual.

AuScribe solves a number of well-known problems when it comes to collecting field data:

  • Time-costly double handling of data by recording it on paper first and then transferring into a computer is no longer an issue.
  • Transcription errors due to human factors such as messy handwriting and typos are gone.
  • There’s no longer a prolonged delay between collecting the data and its availability for use in scientific analysis.
  • Formatting inconsistencies between datasets (i.e .data collected by different users with different notations) are eliminated by AuScribe’s consistent data representation and its rules to check for complete data

All these combine to save you, the researcher, time and equally importantly money – time and money that can now be spent on more or different research.

Finn Hutchings, of The University of Adelaide, is one AuScribe user that can vouch for the efficiency gains it delivers. Finn collects ecological data at established plots across Australia’s rangelands and says that the app has streamlined his work significantly.

‘It makes things quicker in the field, which is great on those really hot or cold days, but the best part is the time it saves in front of a spread-sheet back in the office,’ says Finn. ‘I now have more time for sample curation, and other data collection or analyses that are useful to the science and management communities.’

AuScribe is also developing a new way of thinking about research data, and therefore the way science is done, says Associate Professor Nikki Thurgate, TERN’s Collaborations and Partnerships Director and a member of the app’s development team.

‘The app is more than just a mobile data tool that works well in the field, useful as that is its own right, rather a step towards making a fundamental shift in the way ecology is done, to have researchers share their data in central repositories, such as ÆKOS, so others can use it too,’ says Nikki.

‘As scientists, that puts us in a much more powerful place: because the data collected is stored centrally, we can start to talk about scaling up biodiversity outcomes over the continent, rather than just where individual researchers are working.’

  • AuScribe is available to registered researchers via Google Play. If you would like to collect AusPlots field data with AuScribe, please contact Andrew Tokmakoff to discuss your project and to gain access.
  • AusPlots have put together a detailed explanatory paper on the app, which can be viewed here

Published in TERN newsletter March 2015

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