The National Reserve System is underpinned by a scientific framework to ensure that Australia progressively extends protection to examples of all our ecosystems.
The scientific framework has a clear objective: to develop a 'comprehensive, adequate and representative' system of protected areas - commonly referred to as the 'CAR' reserve system.
Specifically CAR means:
- Comprehensive: the inclusion in the National Reserve System of examples of regional-scale ecosystems in each bioregion
- Adequate: the inclusion of sufficient levels of each ecosystem within the protected area network to provide ecological viability and to maintain the integrity of populations, species and communities
- Representative: the inclusion of areas at a finer scale, to encompass the variability of habitat within ecosystems
The goal of a CAR system of reserves for Australia was endorsed by all Australian governments as signatories to the National Strategy for Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity (2010), and the National Forest Policy statement (1992).
Scientific priorities for biodiversity conservation
Scientific data is used to develop priorities for biodiversity conservation for the National Reserve System:
- Bioregions and subregions where there is very little legal protection for plants and animals native to that area and where they are under a real threat
- Native habitats under-protected within the existing National Reserve System
- Rare or threatened species and habitats
- Places that offer refuge, centres of native species richness, or areas of national importance such as wetlands
- Special species, groups or circumstances - for example, very special habitat requirements, species with an exceptionally large range, migratory species, species vulnerable to climate change or other threatening process
Scientific data also underlies the establishment of priorities for selecting and managing protected areas:
- Properties in high priority bioregions, with intact and viable samples of native ecosystems and habitats
- Properties that are managed as part of a larger network of protected areas, in bioregions where large areas of intact native ecosystems no longer exist but where the long-term viability of plants and animals native to that bioregion need wider protection.
- Properties with ecosystems and habitats of national or state importance, with poor levels of protection in other bioregions.
Australia's bioregional framework
The systematic development of a comprehensive, adequate and representative 'CAR' reserve system rests on a bioregional framework.
Bioregions are large, geographically distinct areas of land with common characteristics such as climate, ecological features and plant and animal communities.
The Australian land mass is divided into 89 bioregions and 419 subregions. This includes, for the first time, four island bioregions and their associated subregions.
National Reserve System protected areas are smaller than bioregions and sit within and across their boundaries.