AboutZoos, Since 2008


Farm­ers and sci­en­tists in res­cue of endan­gered Aus­tralian woodlands

pub­lished 08 Jan­u­ary 2013 | mod­i­fied 08 Jan­u­ary 2013
Australian woodland sitesAus­tralian farm­ers and sci­en­tists work­ing together have devel­oped a world-​first approach to restor­ing native land­scapes on a large scale and mea­sur­ing their recov­ery.

In one of the largest con­ser­va­tion projects of its type in the world, envi­ron­men­tal researchers have devel­oped a new, lost-​cost, sys­tem for mon­i­tor­ing the recov­ery of wildlife and native trees and grasses on 153 farms spread over 172,000 square kilo­me­tres of the crit­i­cally endan­gered grassy wood­lands of NSW and Queens­land. The study led by David Lin­den­mayer from the Envi­ron­men­tal Deci­sions Hub (EDH) and The Aus­tralian National Uni­ver­sity, is pub­lished in the Decem­ber 6 issue of PLoS One.

Restora­tion of native wood­lands is tak­ing place in farm­ing land­scapes all around the world — but until now there has been no easy or cost-​effective way to mon­i­tor progress, says Pro­fes­sor Lin­den­mayer.

“The world’s bio­di­ver­sity is in a dire state, and the loss of native plants and ani­mals is espe­cially promi­nent in agri­cul­tural areas,” he says. “This is mainly due to the clear­ance of native veg­e­ta­tion for farm­ing, over-​grazing by live­stock and weed inva­sions.”

While farm­ers are gen­er­ally keen to con­serve bio­di­ver­sity on their lands, they often lack the infor­ma­tion to tell them which approaches work best and which don’t, Prof. Lin­den­mayer explains. In Aus­tralia, Europe, the US and else­where, it is increas­ingly com­mon to use pub­lic funds to pay farm­ers to restore native land­scapes on their farms. How­ever, these restora­tion schemes are expen­sive and have been crit­i­cised for inad­e­quate mon­i­tor­ing of their results. “A lot of these pro­grams are quite well-​funded — but nobody really knows whether they are work­ing or not,” Prof. Lin­den­mayer com­ments. “If we’re using pub­lic money to fund con­ser­va­tion, it’s vital to show that we are achiev­ing the desired results. So it is good news that Australia’s project to save our grassy wood­lands is meet­ing with mea­sur­able suc­cess.”

Under the Envi­ron­men­tal Stew­ard­ship Pro­gram, the project involves con­tract­ing landown­ers to restore grassy wood­lands on NSW and Queens­land farms over a period of 15 years. These wood­lands are rated as crit­i­cally endan­gered, and have been reduced to three per cent of their orig­i­nal area. Today the rem­nants are mainly small patches of trees on pri­vate farm­land. Work­ing with the farm­ers over a decade, the researchers estab­lished 268 mon­i­tor­ing sites on farms over a 1500 km stretch of coun­try from south­ern NSW to south­ern Queens­land. Their sur­vey of plants, birds and rep­tiles on the sites reveals that straight­for­ward con­ser­va­tion meth­ods, includ­ing reduc­ing graz­ing pres­sure, weed con­trol, fenc­ing and re-​planting of native veg­e­ta­tion are prov­ing suc­cess­ful in restor­ing native veg­e­ta­tion and wildlife.

Over the last four years, we com­pared restored sites with sites where no con­ser­va­tion work was done. We found that there were sig­nif­i­cantly more native plants and birds in the restora­tion sites, and fewer invasive species.
Prof David Lin­den­mayer, Aus­tralian Government’s National Envi­ron­men­tal Research Pro­gram Environ­men­tal Deci­sions Hub »

“We now have good, sound sci­ence to say that mak­ing straight­for­ward changes in how we man­age our land — if done prop­erly — can make a huge dif­fer­ence in its bio­di­ver­sity. This also means we can promise a mea­sur­able return on pub­lic invest­ment in con­ser­va­tion.”

To keep mon­i­tor­ing costs down, espe­cially in large scale projects, the sci­en­tists have pro­posed a new way to observe the envi­ron­men­tal out­comes of con­ser­va­tion pro­grams. “We pro­pose a full sur­vey at the start, fol­lowed by sam­pling dif­fer­ent farms for the next four years, and doing a full cen­sus again in the fifth year,” Prof. Lin­den­mayer says. “For instance, if we have 250 sites to mon­i­tor, we’ll observe 150 sites this year, and use advanced sta­tis­ti­cal mod­el­ling to pick 150 sites the next. We might choose two thirds of what we sam­pled from the pre­vi­ous year, and make up the remain­ing one third from unsur­veyed sites. This way, over a num­ber of years, we’ll be able to track the changes in the entire pop­u­la­tion.”

If applied to the Envi­ron­men­tal Stew­ard­ship Pro­gram, this new way of sam­pling can save a hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars each year, com­pared to the tra­di­tional method of mon­i­tor­ing a fixed set of sites annu­ally. “This new approach has been shown to work in pos­sum con­ser­va­tion pro­grams in Vic­to­ria, and lends itself beau­ti­fully to a large-​scale study like this,” Prof. Lin­den­mayer says.

“Land­scape restora­tion poli­cies are usu­ally well planned, and now we have good sci­ence to sup­port them. This project has involved many dif­fer­ent groups work­ing together, includ­ing envi­ron­men­tal man­agers, farm­ers, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and sci­en­tists. Every­one is happy with the results.

“Australia’s Envi­ron­men­tal Stew­ard­ship Pro­gram has been a suc­cess — and it’s vital that we keep going with it.”

(Source: NERP Envi­ron­men­tal Deci­sions Hub media release, 02.01.2013)
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