Biodiversity conservation research: Australia's priorities

Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council and Biological Diversity Advisory Committee
Commonwealth of Australia, 2001
ISBN 0 6425 4742 4

Appendix 2: Public consultation

In 1999, the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC ) Standing Committee on Conservation (SCC ) recognised that there was no system in place for identifying national priorities for biodiversity research. The SCC requested that the Biological Diversity Advisory Council develop a framework that could guide research and funding bodies throughout Australia.

Discussion paper

The Biological Diversity Advisory Council held a workshop on 10 April 2000 bringing together 26 experts in biodiversity conservation to provide advice on research priorities. Seven report advisers provided additional input. Drawing on this advice, the Council produced a discussion paper, Biodiversity Research: Australia's Priorities.

Consultation

Public comment was sought in August 2000. Personalised invitations to comment were sent to organisations from 25 July. The period of consultation was six weeks.

The discussion paper was distributed in hard copy to some 250 organisations that undertake, fund and use biodiversity research. These included research organisations, peak conservation and industry organisations, a peak local government body and a broad range of Commonwealth, State and Territory departments and agencies engaged in management of natural resources. The discussion paper reached several hundred more individuals and organisations via electronic distribution.

Respondents

Comments on biodiversity research priorities were received from 49 organisations and 6 individuals in response to the discussion paper.

This represents a response rate from organisations of some 20 per cent of those posted a copy of the discussion paper and some 25 per cent of those sent a personalised invitation to comment. The response rate following personalised invitation was 10 per cent of research and development corporations (R & DCs), cooperative research centres (CRC's) and other general research organisations; 24 per cent of university departments; 33 per cent of herbaria, museums and zoos; and 33 per cent of government agencies. The response rate for non-government organisations cannot be estimated as much of the distribution was via peak bodies and most responses were made by member organisations.

Comments were received from 7 non-government conservation organisations, 2 industry associations, 4 general research organisations, 11 university departments, 6 museums, herbaria and zoos, 7 Commonwealth and 11 State/Territory Government agencies and one local government city council.

The organisations included 9 national bodies and 7 Commonwealth Government agencies. By State or Territory, the balance of comments from organisations came from Queensland (3), NSW (11), ACT (3), Vic toria (5), Tasmania (3), Northern Territory (1), South Australia (4) and Western Australia (3).

Experts drawn from 25 organisations provided advice during the development of the discussion paper. Of these organisations, 11 provided written comment during the public consultation period.

Six individuals commented. These came from Victoria (1), South Australia (4) and Western Australia (1). Three of these worked for organisations which were invited to, but did not, provide comment – a State Government department, a university and a non-government conservation organisation.

Electronic distribution of the discussion paper was essential where the request to comment was made to a peak organisation which forwarded the paper to members by email. Subscriber postings and word of mouth generated further interest in the discussion paper and the need for biodiversity conservation research.

Questionnaire

To assist collection and collation of comments, a standard questionnaire was circulated. This format was used by over 70 per cent of respondents.

Comment was invited on all aspects of the discussion paper. In particular, respondents were asked 'What are the five most important areas of biodiversity research that should be undertaken in the next few years? Why have you selected these areas?'.

Comments

The discussion paper was generally well received and valued as a comprehensive overview of biodiversity conservation issues and related areas of research.

Eight respondents considered the document too general, needing a more strategic focus in the selection of high priorities and/or needing work to identify research gaps.

Twelve respondents requested explicit reference be made to:

  • fresh water ecosystems such as riverine, flood plain, permanent and ephemeral wetland, mound spring and other ground water and ground water dependent ecosystems; and
  • naturally saline lakes and marshes.

Certain areas of concern were considered by some to be over- represented in the paper and by others to be under-represented.

For instance:

  • agriculture and soils – 1 wanted more research, 4 less;
  • species identification – 2 wanted more research, 2 less; and
  • economics – 11 commended the research to estimate the economic value of ecosystem processes, 5 considered this research could be counter productive if environmental and social values were underestimated.
Other comments on priorities
Priority Comments
Identify ecological communities# Well supported. Additional priority communities suggested.
Identify species# Well supported. Additional priority species suggested.
Identify genetic diversity* Needed to be related to conservation of species.
Access to biodiversity data and information Well supported.
Identify ecosystem function* Needed clarification.
Identify ecosystem processes Strongly supported.
Value ecosystem services Well supported.
Controversial: concern about validity of economic estimates; problem if debate undervalues environmental and social good.
Develop incentives Well supported.
Develop educational materials Well supported.
Identify threatening processes Work on habitat fragmentation strongly supported.
Broader focus on other threats requested.
Develop biodiversity indicators* Strongly supported.
Concern to use direct measures where possible.
Identify reserves* Support for marine reserves.
Support to add fresh water reserves.
Identify conservation status of species Supported.
Assess risks and develop management strategies* Strong support for addressing weeds and ferals. Support to add GMOs and to mention environmental impact assessment (EIA) .
Develop management planning techniques
identify options, assess effectiveness*
Strongly supported – provided effectiveness assessed.
Develop ecologically sustainable management techniques# Agriculture strongly supported. Support to add various industries particularly pastoralism and aqua culture.
Develop predictive models*

Supported – provided models are verified.

* Recommendation changed to accommodate proposal.
# Recommendation changed to accommodate those proposals that had a higher level of support.

Outcomes of the public consultation

The Biological Diversity Advisory Council met for the last time on 5-6 June 2000 and finalised the discussion paper Biodiversity Research: Australia's Priorities, on which this consultation was based.

A new statutory body, the Biological Diversity Advisory Committee, was established under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and met for the first time on 11-12 October 2000. It considered the public comments, accommodated the proposals as indicated in the table above and prepared this final report.