The Biosecurity Collections


The Biosecurity Collections hold over half a million preserved scientific specimens.

We have two collections: Insect & Mite Collection and Plant Pathology & Mycology Herbarium.

Our primary focus has been on agricultural plant pests and diseases, including insects, mites, fungi, bacteria, viruses and nematodes, from NSW dating back to 1890. We also hold plant pest and disease specimens from other Australian regions and overseas, native Australian insect and mite species, native Australian mushrooms and lichens, environmental pests (termites, ants), and even pests and diseases of insects (mites of bees, or fungi that infects insects).

Many specimens important to agriculture and biosecurity and for scientific research are preserved in the collections. The collections are the largest of their kind in Australia. This resource is incredibly important to plant industries and the environment, and is irreplaceable.

Read on to learn more about the why these collections are important, how you can help us and what we can do for you.

What is a scientific collection?

The NSW Biosecurity Collections is a natural history resource, which covers several groups of organisms, including insects, mites, fungi, bacteria and viruses. Our focus is on organisms which have a negative affect on plant health.

Specimens are stored in different ways. Plant specimens infected with a disease, whether fungi, bacteria or viruses, are pressed and dried flat. These are then stored in specialist archival envelopes which also contain all the collection information about that specimen. This information is also captured in our database We also have a living culture collection of fungi and bacteria, the specimens are held in a sort of stasis and can be revived. Insects are pinned, this helps with handling and ensure they do get bumped and broken when being transported. Tiny labels containing important collection data are included on the pin. Fleshy specimens, like caterpillars and other larvae or mushrooms, are either preserved in ethanol (alcohol) or dried in a desiccator or dehydrator oven, much like a food dehydrator.

The collection data for all specimens is managed in our database, which is shared with the Australian biosecurity and diagnostic community. Modern technology has made collection management, and the sharing of collection data, far easier than ever before. The exponential increase in access to collection data has spearheaded research projects in all sorts of scientific and historical fields. Having the physical specimen at the core of biological discovery is what makes natural history collections so important and irreplaceable.

Why do we keep the physical specimen?

Having the physical specimen gives us confidence in the data that we are sharing. By preserving specimens we are able to verify data and also update it when new information becomes available. For example, the classification of organisms (taxonomy) is a dynamic science. As we learn more about the biology and molecular makeup of an organism, we revisit its species concept. Species can go through many, many name changes, and they even get split into multiple species or we find that multiple species are actually one species. Because we have the original material that was used when that species was detected we can go back and check which species we actually have. This is very important for tracking pest and disease occurrence.

The physical specimen is also very useful as a reference and for research. The department offers a number of diagnostic services and our specimens act as a reference when identifying an unknown species. Progress in technology enables DNA to be extracted from 100 year old specimens, revealing new information and insights into their taxonomy, biology and relationships with their host plants. Our specimens also contain information on predators, pathogens and symbionts that may have been collected with the specimen, all important when working on biological control programs.

Additional research areas our specimens may be used in include diagnostics, taxonomy, phylogenetics, biodiversity, DNA analysis, ecology, ethnobotany (human relationship with plants), locality history, host interactions, air quality and climate studies.

Our role in biosecurity

Biosecurity is a critical part of the government's efforts to prevent, respond to and recover from plant diseases that threaten the economy and environment.

The department works to ensure continued market access for NSW plants and plant products and to maintain our high standards for emergency response. Our role in biosecurity is to provide and maintain specimens and their data, relating and interpreting this to pest status. We provide expert advice on plant pathogens and work with the department's biosecurity and surveillance teams and other NSW researchers and growers, supporting work that keeps Australia free from pests and diseases.

Global trade in plants and plant products is based around the concept of pest status. Plants and plant products must be certified to demonstrate that there is a very low risk of moving a pest with the product into another location where it might establish and spread, affecting agriculture, the community or environment. This certification relies on collections like ours. Our records go back over 100 years and are growing through ongoing research, diagnostics and surveillance activities.

Information about specimens, captured in our database, records the species, location and date it was collected and the plant host. This creates an immense data set that can be mined for pest presence/absence in Australia, what species are being intercepted at our borders and species distribution and diversity.

Collections staff also take part in emergency response activities, perform diagnostic work for suspect exotic pests and surveillance activities for target pests and diseases as well as performing important taxonomic work of both pests and diseases and native insects, mites and fungi.

Collection services

The Biosecurity Collections offer a number of services, including specimen vouchering and imaging, diagnostics, culture sales and specimen preservation.

For more information and pricing please visit our collection services page.

Scientific illustrations

The Collections hold illustrations and artworks related to plant pests, diseases and mushrooms.

We are working on digitising these holdings to share online. They have value as both scientific tools and heritage items, but also simply as beautiful pieces of art and a testament the skill of their creators.

These scientific illustrations and other select works are available for purchase through Redbubble

EH Zeck

A collection of coloured insect paintings completed by entomologist and scientific illustrator EH Zeck during his employment with NSW Department of Agriculture.

Margaret Senior

A collection of coloured illustrations of plant diseases and disorders painted by artist Margaret Senior. These were commissioned in the 1960s by the then Department of Agriculture  for use in the "Ag Facts" Bulletin. We are working to digitise the bulletins also.

General collection enquires


Phone: 02 6391 3988

Biosecurity Collections,
Orange Agricultural Institute,
1447 Forest Rd, Orange, NSW, 2800

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Agricultural Scientific Collections Trust logo

The Biosecurity Collections are managed but the Agricultural Scientific Collections Trust, under the Agricultural Scientific Collections Trust Act (1983), which safeguards the collection for future generations.