Biodiversity Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Prepared by: Dr Jann Williams, RMIT University, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06749 3

Increase in the Knowledge of Biodiversity (continued)

Long-term monitoring

  • Long-term monitoring and research sites
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    Long-term monitoring and research sites [BD Indicator 24.6]

    Long-term monitoring sites are permanent sample locations set up to record trends in a range of ecological and biological characteristics. In Australia, there are numerous agencies and programs responsible for the upkeep and continued measurement of long-term monitoring sites. The first long-term monitoring site was a CSIRO site established at Gilruth Plains, Qld, in 1944. The 20 ha grazing exclosure is located within the Warrego floodplain and includes a mix of Mitchell Grass downs, Gidgee drainage line and Spinifex sandhill vegetation. A total of 14 photopoints were established in 1944 and have been rephotographed and interpreted at irregular intervals since. Several studies into the ecology and demography of Mitchell Grass (Astrebla spp.) have been conducted using these data, and the understanding from this study informs the management and resource use of the plains.

    There is a broad range of motivations for the establishment of long-term monitoring sites. Many of the early sites were established to monitor production systems such as forests and fisheries. Most of the ecological monitoring sites with a non-production focus were established in the 1980s and 1990s, with some notable exceptions. There are also many community monitoring programs which are covered in following sections. Over 80 biodiversity or monitoring programs, covering 1995 to 2001, are also recorded for the AAT (http://www.aad.gov.au ).

    Global scientific interest in developing a Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program is expanding very rapidly, reflecting the increased appreciation of their importance in assessing and resolving complex environmental issues. In 1993, the International Long Term Ecological Research (ILTER) network was formed to develop a worldwide program, and the infrastructure necessary to facilitate communication and to manage distributed databases. Australia is a member of this international network and has four sites registered - three of these focus on production forests (two in Queensland and one in Tasmania) and the fourth, which began operations in 1998, is centred around rainforest canopy research at Cape Tribulation, north Queensland.

    The only national register of long-term research and monitoring sites is maintained by the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) (Figures 55 and 56). The database mainly contains sites contributed by members of the Society, and would benefit from a more systematic approach to collecting information. However, with over 130 sites listed, this database represents a very useful starting point to develop a national strategy. The database has site location details for roughly 90% of the study sites listed.

    Figure 55: The number of long-term research and monitoring sites by tenure, ecosystem type and decade commenced.
    About 130 sites are recorded in the ESA database, which while incomplete, provides a base-line for documenting long-term sites around Australia.

     The number of long-term research and monitoring sites by tenure, decade commenced and ecosystem type

    Source: ESA

    Figure 56: Distribution of long-term ecological research and monitoring sites across Australia.
    Offshore points are located on islands. Large-scale monitoring programs with many study sites are not mapped. For example, the Rangelands Assessment Program in South Australia, and the Great Barrier Reef long-term change monitoring sites for the Reef CRC in Queensland are not included.

     Distribution of long-term ecological research and monitoring sites across Australia

    Source: ESA Database

    Of the more than 130 long-term monitoring and research sites in the ESA database, only eight are comprehensive in the sense that they sample vertebrates, invertebrates and plants (Table 61). Most sites are dedicated to sampling just one, or more rarely two, taxonomic groups. There is a distinct bias towards monitoring vascular plants, and there is a very uneven distribution of effort across taxa and among ecosystems (Figure 57).

    Figure 57: The number of long-term research and monitoring sites in Australia devoted to sampling various taxa.
    Offshore points are located on islands. Large-scale monitoring programs with many study sites are not mapped. For example, the Rangelands Assessment Program in South Australia, and the Great Barrier Reef long-term change monitoring sites for the Reef CRC in Queensland are not included.

     The number of long-term research and monitoring sites in Australia devoted to sampling various taxa

    Source: ESA database

    Table 61: The eight sites recorded in the Ecological Society of Australia's database on long-term ecological research and monitoring sites that sample vertebrates, invertebrates and plants
    Ecosystem No. of sites Location Project commenced
    Coral reef/lagoon 1 One Tree Island Reef, Qld 1974
    Eucalypt forest 1 Barren Grounds, NSW 1983
    Eucalypt woodland 1 Gladstone Block, Qld 1988
    Savanna 1 Manbullo, Katherine, NT 1975
    Savanna 1 Lake Mere, NSW 1985
    Wet forest 3 Central Plateau, Tarraleah, Tas. 1992

    Source: ESA database (see Figure 55).