Ecological monitoring is conducted on our reserves as well as land that we are helping to managing for conservation in partnership with others. Here's the process in a nutshell.
Selecting monitoring sites
At a new reserve information from our initial land assessments and preliminary surveys, together with expert and local knowledge, are drawn together in a planning phase. Monitoring sites around the reserve are identified and pegged.
These sites are located so they provide a representative sample of all the ecosystems, and the variations within them, based on
- ecological variability such as differences in slope and aspect, fire or flood history, and
- land use history.
This would include sites at different distances from water points, at paddock boundaries and in areas cleared or cultivated.
Preparing the plan and allocating resources
As we prepare the management plan we identify the key conservation values and targets for the property, what threats they face and how these threats should be managed.
The key conservation targets and values include special elements of the landscape, perhaps threatened species or groups of species, vegetation communities or ecosystem processes. Work plans follow. They specify, as a series of defined projects, the on-ground actions needed.
Monitoring then begins at each site using biodiversity indicators selected by our team of ecologists. These give us valuable information about what's happening at the site and, over time, they allow us to monitor changes across the landscape. These changes will show how effective our management work has been in meeting our conservation goals for the reserve. They'll help us understand how the natural systems on each reserve work, including how the threats are affecting the land and its wildlife and how we can manipulate them.
Match changes to actions
The changes emerging in the landscape will be matched to the management actions that have influenced them. We can thus compare our human ‘outputs’, such as erosion control work, controlled burns, and feral animal and weed management to the ‘outcomes’ we see in the recovery of the land and in our key conservation targets. As our understanding grows we'll be better able to judge the best actions to take to achieve the desired ecological result.
Storing and analysing data
The data gathered at all sites are stored in a dedicated database, together with information on actions taken across the entire property. Added to this is vegetation productivity from satellite data. This remote imagery may also tell us the amount of carbon being stored in these recovering landscapes – an important measure for quantifying our contribution to sequestering carbon and combating climate change. The database has been designed to collate and manage the data and provide coherent and reliable information in reports and maps. The consistency of the data collection method allows us to compare the changes both within reserves and between reserves.
With time, especially as we add monitoring sites to those properties that we cooperatively manage with our partners, we'll be able to see changes in the vegetation and bird populations on a continental scale. This will help identify and target the most important sites for future land acquisitions and also help us understand the effects of climate change and its implications for biodiversity across the continent.
It will be several seasons before we get monitoring results that will be useful for our adaptive management and in which we can account for normal fluctuations resulting from differences in rainfall and temperature. However, we're already starting to see some interesting patterns in the movement of birds, changes in vegetation and records of new species where monitoring is underway.
The Increment project, funded by the Australian Government Natural Heritage Trust and Land and Water Australia, is helping us convey these results to our supporters in the most understandable form. It will develop custom-designed software that will enable rigorous reporting to supporters on biodiversity outcomes achieved as a result of their investment in reserve management activities.
We also acknowledge funding by the Macquarie Group Foundation towards this Ecological Outcomes Monitoring Increment project.