Finding Fast Answers to Urgent Ecological Questions

Building on existing econinformatics services, EcoCommons is making it faster and easier to tackle pressing challenges for our planet.
A yellowtail kingfish in the sea
Predictions about the migratory patterns of the yellowtail kingfish (Seriola lalandi) have been made using a machine-learning-based workflow available on EcoCommons. Image: Nautilus Creative - 551247362 /

In the depths of Australia’s coastal waters, hundreds of acoustic receivers are monitoring the movement of more than 100 fish, reptile and mammal species. This network of trackers was first built in 2007 by the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS), and to date it has made over 100 million detections. This wealth of data promises insights into many important questions, such as how climate change affects the animals’ migration patterns and how they should be protected. The challenge is to gain these insights quickly and easily.

A solution came on 29 November 2022, when EcoCommons Australia, an ARDC-supported platform for analysing and modelling ecological data, was launched at the joint conference of the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) and the Society for Conservation Biology Oceania (SCBO) in Wollongong.

Making the Good Better

Developed with co-investment from the ARDC and partners, and hosted on the ARDC Nectar Research Cloud, EcoCommons is the result of consolidating and re-engineering several existing ecoinformatics services. These include the Biodiversity and Climate Change Virtual Laboratory (BCCVL) and Ecocloud, which have powered environmental science for almost a decade. Using BCCVL, international as well as Australian researchers and policymakers could easily model biodiversity in different climate scenarios to understand, say, the changing distribution of alpine wildflowers in the Snowy Mountains[1] or of yellow-fever-carrying monkeys in Brazil[2] as the climate warms.

With EcoCommons, all this and more can be done on a single platform. It offers access to more high-quality ecological, environmental and climate data through its Data Explorer, expanded data visualisation and analysis capabilities through the new BCCVL Modelling Wizard, and greater computational power through the Coding Cloud. It is now faster and easier than ever to answer pressing questions about the environment.

Two of the species tracked by IMOS were the yellowtail kingfish (Seriola lalandi) and the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas). Based on some 20,000 movement records for each species, predictions have been made about their migratory patterns using a machine-learning-based workflow available on EcoCommons. Predictions like these are exactly what is needed to design conservation measures such as fishing regulations, and to understand how the species may fare in the ongoing climate crisis.

“We were thrilled to release EcoCommons as a successor to BCCVL but with workflows and visualisations that are so much faster and smoother,” said Dr Elisa Bayraktarov, EcoCommons Program Manager. “And we’ve taken great care to update and expand the curated data collections which are now available at the fingertips of the EcoCommons modeller.”

A heatmap of the Australian coastline
The predicted distribution of the yellowtail kingfish in October based on IMOS acoustic detection data and averaged IMOS environmental data (2011–2021). This was produced using models on EcoCommons, and improvements are coming soon to the way users can model species migration or distribution over time. Source: EcoCommons

Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

EcoCommons is also helping to maximise the potential of other ecoinformatics platforms and data sources. With EcoCommons, researchers can, for instance, make better use of the growing body of audio recordings of animal calls on Open Ecoacoustics, also an ARDC co-investment platform, to model species distribution and to understand how species compositions change over time and space.

Meanwhile, the EcoCommons team is working to integrate the platform with the open-source, ARDC-supported AusTraits, which holds plant traits data for more than 21,000 Australian species. This data can be plugged into models on EcoCommons that aim to predict how plant species ranges may shift under climate change, the understanding of which can be crucial for conservation planning.

Speaking at the EcoCommons launch, Professor Hugh Possingham, the former Queensland chief scientist, shared his vision for EcoCommons:

“I dream of a day when Indigenous people and fishermen and mining companies are sitting around a laptop in Mullumbimby deciding how to plan land-sea reserves; equitably discussing the data and the information and the cultural knowledge that needs to go into those land-sea reserves. And that, I think, is what EcoCommons will hopefully deliver.”

Six maps showing the total areas of suitable habitat for the greater sooty owl as estimated using different models and the estimated percentages of those that were burnt
On the Biodiversity and Climate Change Virtual Laboratory (BCCVL) – now part of EcoCommons and more powerful than ever – various algorithms are available for researchers to estimate the full extent of habitat suitable for the greater sooty owl (in yellow). The results can then be overlaid with external fire data to yield an estimate of the extent of the habitat affected by the 2019/2020 bushfires.

Building Digital Research Skills

EcoCommons is also building on the ecoscience training and skills development initiative EcoEd, providing users with peer-reviewed educational materials, real-world use cases of its tools, and guides to using the platform. The EcoCommons team also delivered in-person workshops at the 2022 ESA-SCBO conference and the 2022 Queensland Research Bazaar (ResBaz).

“There is a lot of pressure on researchers and policymakers to come up with fast solutions for the environment,” said Dr Rob Clemens, former EcoCommons change and communications manager. “We want to empower our users to become the next generation ecological modellers who can utilise the whole suite of data, models and cloud compute.”

“I really enjoy using the new BCCVL Modelling Wizard for my research and have published several papers about species distribution modelling and climate change. I would like to share this knowledge so that other researchers or maybe even college students and lecturers can also use this amazing platform. I am really keen on teaching how to use the EcoCommons platform,” wrote Dr Sutomo, a researcher at the National Research and Innovation Agency in Indonesia.

Learn more about EcoCommons.

EcoCommons Australia ( is a partnership of the ARDC, the Atlas of Living Australia, CEBRA at The University of Melbourne, CSIRO, Griffith University, Macquarie University, the Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation, TERN, and UNSW Sydney. It has also received investment from the Queensland Government’s Research Infrastructure Co-investment Fund.

The ARDC is continuing to address the earth and environmental research data challenges associated with modelling, analytics and decision support infrastructure through the Planet Research Data Commons.

Written by Jason Yuen (ARDC). Edited by Mary O’Callaghan. Reviewed by Jo Savill (ARDC), Dr Elisa Bayraktarov (EcoCommons), Ruper Marquand (EcoCommons), Dr Rob Clemens (fomerly EcoCommons) and Kerry Levett (ARDC).


  1. Kirchhoff CM. Rapid assessment of future habitat suitability: A case-study of the Snowy Mountains endemic alpine flora using the Biodiversity and Climate Change Virtual Library (BCCVL). Australasian Plant Conservation: Journal of the Australian Network for Plant Conservation. 2020;28(3):5-8. Available from: Jump back
  2. de Thoisy B, Silva NIO, Sacchetto L, de Souza Trindade G, Drumond BP. Spatial epidemiology of yellow fever: Identification of determinants of the 2016-2018 epidemics and at-risk areas in Brazil. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. 2020;14(10):e0008691. Available from: Jump back