Australian Biological Resources Study
Algae are a traditional grouping of organisms, linked for convenience and for their similarities in habit, habitat and environmental response. They are known to be polyphyletic (i.e. they are descended from diverse ancestral taxa), and the boundaries of the group are indistinct, with some algae closely allied to true plants, others more closely related to simple animals, and others which are kin to the bacteria and fungi.
Despite their diversity, algae have traditionally been studied as a group, and most are still of environmental importance as a group. Attempts to define them have, not surprisingly, been difficult. The most rigorous are perhaps those that propose that the algae comprise those groups possessing chlorophyll 'a' photosynthesis combined with a relatively simple level of organisation. More appealing, but certainly circular is the argument that algae are those organisms studied by phycologists (phycologists being scientists who study algae!).
ABRS chooses to leave to others the ongoing and complex argument on higher lever classification (particularly arguments on the numbers of Kingdoms that should be recognised — currently ranging from 3 to over 20), and to adopt a pragmatic approach to the description of this part of Australia's biota. The Algal Subprogram will support research and publish accounts of all kinds of algae, from the blue-greens (Cyanophyta) related to bacteria, to the greens (Chlorophyta) and charophytes (Charophyta) and to the diverse assemblages of macro and microalgae in the many other lineages.
In describing this diversity we will be summarising current research on phylogeny, ecology and general biology, to ensure that the consolidated knowledge is as useful and accessible as possible to the many clients who need to manage algal assemblages in various ways for a multitude of reasons. These clients will include those with responsibilities for water quality, for aquatic weed management, for soil fertility, for fisheries management, environmental (especially climate) monitoring, and much more, because algae are found in both marine and freshwater habitats, in soils, in water films wherever they occur, and even deeply buried in solid rocks. Currently, about 10 000 to 12 000 species of algae are known for Australia, but this is certainly an underestimate. Research will greatly increase this number in coming years.
The major vehicle for description of Australia's algae will be the book series Algae of Australia, but this will be supplemented by various special purpose publications, both paper based and electronic.