Skip to content

Climate change study at Charles Darwin

Published 27 Jul 2016 by Dr Nic Dunlop

Charles Darwin Reserve (then White Wells Station) was purchased by Bush Heritage in 2005 with the primary objective of protecting some of the last expanses of woodland that had been systematically cleared from the Western Australian wheatbelt. The Reserve is bounded by other former pastoral stations that collectively encompass the largest surviving swathe of wheatbelt vegetation, sandwiched between the grossly over-cleared agricultural zone and the rangelands with their legacy of misuse from overstocking. Collectively the 'Conservation Stations' were miraculously saved from the plough on several occasions by changing circumstance and bureaucratic inertia.

To get your bearings on the Conservation Stations one looks for Mount Singleton, a prominent dolerite outcrop that is the highest feature for hundreds of kilometres. It sits at the apex of two (arguably 3) major bioregions straddling the mulga-eucalypt line.

The cultural significance of the region

Mount Singleton is a maternal echidna in a creation myth, known as Ninghan amongst the Noongar people of the South West region and Gundawa by the Yamatji language groups of central western Australia. The songline and its sacred places, including a nearby granite outcrop called Warrdargga, is also sung by desert (Wongi) people living far to east. At Gundawa Noongar people traded Balga Gum (a useful glue) from the south-western bioregions for ochre provided by Badimia from the arid Murchison.

A meeting place for aboriginal cultures

As aboriginal cultures evolve in response to ecological resources it is hardly surprisingly that language groups correlate well with the scientific concepts of bioregions. Around Gundawa a biota representative of the south-western Western Australian biodiversity hotspot meets that of the arid shrublands that occupy much of central Australia. The vegetation types characteristic of both systems are interspersed at the boundary by soil changes, placing populations of south-west and arid zone plants and animals in close proximity. Frontiers like this are the ideal locations to test predicted responses of plants and animals to anticipated climate changes, such as the rising minimum temperatures, the seasonal distribution in rainfall and extreme drought or storm events.

Charles Darwin Reserve - an optimal location for terrestrial climate change ecology

Charles Darwin Reserve was optimally located to establish a long-term citizen-science program to investigate terrestrial climate change ecology. It also had a number of other prerequisites for a project of this type. The land was under conservation management protecting the study area from impacts other than climate change (except mineral exploration and mining). It also had accommodation and other infrastructure allowing teams of budding ecologists to hang out for extended periods at low cost. Institutional scientists have also been attracted to conduct research on the Reserve for similar reasons, including the WA Museum and Edith Cowan and Murdoch Universities. So the meeting place has increasingly become a focus for the scientific community.

The Conservation Council of West Australia's Citizen Science program

The Conservation Council Citizen Science Program started preliminary fauna survey work on Charles Darwin Reserve in 2006 with the objective of selecting the biological indicators that would be tracked in the long-term. The Charles Darwin Climate Change Observatory became operational in 2008 with the commissioning of our central automatic meteorological station and the initial sampling of 10 ecological indicators. These indicators included vegetation at some BHA monitoring sites, ant species and communities, bat species and communities and small mammals (Dunnarts).

2016 an amazing year for rainfall

The years that followed were mostly droughts and difficult times for the Reserve's plants and animals. The current year (2016) has been the first to exceed long-term average rainfalls so we keenly await the response. In 2015 the indicators we used were evaluated and a remote sensing investigation was carried out to try and identify habitat patches where productivity persisted during the drought periods (funded by the Gundawa Conservation Association). This information is being used to restructure some of our sampling to include some of these 'putative refugia' to get a better understanding of how some animal populations manage to persist in the landscape. Some bird species and bird community indicators are now being added to the monitoring program (with respect to refugia sampling). The Hay Paddock at the homestead is a classic 'old field' experiment on the edge of the wheatbelt. That area is now being observed as a potential model of what nature will do on abandoned farmland on the edge of the wheatbelt in a changing climate.

Over 70 citizen-scientists have participated in the Observatory Program over the years, with a hard core group of recidivists. We will gather again at the meeting place for the spring sampling very soon.

Dr Nic Dunlop
Citizen Science Coordinator
Conservation Council (WA)

Charles Darwin Reserve. Photo Paul Evans. Charles Darwin Reserve. Photo Paul Evans.
The MET Station. Photo Nic Dunlop. The MET Station. Photo Nic Dunlop.
Nic Dunlop with a volunteer at the MET Station. Nic Dunlop with a volunteer at the MET Station.
Nic Dunlop & Chris Darwin discussing the Observatory Program in 2009. Nic Dunlop & Chris Darwin discussing the Observatory Program in 2009.
Nic Dunlop and 'citizen scientists' at Charles Darwin Reserve 2014. Photo Vanessa Westcott. Nic Dunlop and 'citizen scientists' at Charles Darwin Reserve 2014. Photo Vanessa Westcott.

Related stories

A Brushtail Possum at Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary, Badimia Country, WA. Photo: Brad Leue

BUSHTRACKS 25/03/2024

Possum party

Four hours north-east of Perth, the sight of a Brushtail Possum is one for celebration. It was recorded on a motion-sensor camera, and has been on a very special journey.

Read More
Common Brushtail Possum

16/02/2024 16/02/2024

Possum magic

The once locally extinct Brushtail Possum is confidently exploring a wildlife corridor in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt, created by neighbouring wildlife reserves managed by conservation leaders Australian Wildlife Conservancy and Bush Heritage Australia.

Read More
Sunset as seen from Charles Darwin Reserve, Badimia Country, WA. By Seabird Films Andy McGregor

BUSHTRACKS 11/01/2024

Nurturing community

After two decades of management at Charles Darwin Reserve we celebrate our impact – on the landscape and its people.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 13/06/2023

Returning to Country

In Western Australia's Southwest Botanical Province, when Badimia, Bimarra and Barna come together, great things happen.

Read More

BLOG 02/06/2023

Reduce, reuse, recycle this World Environment Day

For people living in cities and towns, rubbish removal is one of the many conveniences of life that we take for granted. We pop waste in our various bins and then wheel the bins out onto the road for the council trucks to pick up. But what about those who live remotely?

Read More

BLOG 06/01/2022

Restoration improves biodiversity & soil

Vegetation clearing for new agricultural land continues to cause environmental degradation, biodiversity loss and increased carbon emissions. But there are also large swathes of land no longer used for agriculture with potential to be remediated.

Read More

BLOG 02/07/2021

We must heal Country together

This NAIDOC Week we celebrate the flow and connectedness of People and Country, highlighting the relationship Bush Heritage holds with the Badimia Traditional Owners of the Midwest-Gascoyne region in Western Australia.

Read More
ichard McLellan is monitoring Sandalwood at Hamelin Reserve. Photo Shayne Thomson.

BUSHTRACKS 18/06/2021

The Great Sandalwood Transect

Across a 1500km arc from the Gibson Desert to Shark Bay, researcher Richard McLellan is uncovering the ecological and cultural value of sandalwood.

Read More

BLOG 19/01/2021

Why walk when you can hop?

I see all sorts of wildlife every day at Charles Darwin Reserve, but it is only once a year that Bush Heritage partakes in the small animal trapping on the Reserve. And I must say it is definitely one of my favourite times of year. A weeklong adventure of early mornings, peering down into dark traps never knowing what creatures might be hiding inside – and the utter joy of seeing a native animal staring back at you. A joy only surpassed by releasing the animal unharmed back into the wild.

Read More

BLOG 09/12/2020

Malleefowl – these birds like it hot, hot, hot!

Before I started as Reserve Manager at Charles Darwin Reserve, I was an avid volunteer for Bush Heritage – and have been monitoring the Malleefowl mounds here on Badimia Country for the past five years. In 2016, myself and a team of other keen volunteers went bush on one of the annual mound monitoring surveys and visited hundreds of potential Malleefowl mound locations that needed to be ‘ground-truthed’ after LIDAR analysis. Every year since, I have returned to Charles Darwin Reserve to monitor the Malleefowl mounds we identified.

Read More

BLOG 30/09/2020

Digging deep to harvest rainwater

Water is a vital and scarce resource in the midwest rangelands of WA, and here at Charles Darwin Reserve we are constantly looking for ways to improve our rainwater capture. So earlier this Winter a small but skilled group of volunteers dug deep to harvest rainwater – an excellent way to save not only water but also money and the environment.

Read More

BLOG 28/08/2020

Removing Paterson's Curse

With its vibrant purple flowers, Paterson’s Curse is often mistaken for a native wildflower but is in fact one of the most conspicuous weeds in paddocks and roadsides throughout Australia. Supposedly named after the Paterson family of Cumberoona, New South Wales - who planted it in their garden in the 1880s – the weed is now highly competitive in disturbed land, competing with agricultural crops and pastures, and unique and fragile native species. It was introduced to Australia from Europe.

Read More

BLOG 28/07/2020

There be dragons

Children learn a lot about the world through imaginative play and what better place to imagine than at Charles Darwin Reserve. The first two weeks of July are school holidays here in WA and with COVID restrictions easing – our families have been able to visit for the first time. It's always great to see family, but to be able to share the magic of Charles Darwin Reserve with not only our siblings, but also their children, is a unique and special experience.

Read More

BLOG 01/05/2020

Mystery of the soap stealing crow

Whilst our volunteers aren't able to get out onto Reserve, we've asked them to recount some of their previous adventures. Long term Western Australian volunteer Bob Ruscoe recounts an incident whilst Caretaking on Charles Darwin Reserve.

Read More

BLOG 27/02/2020

Getting froggy with it

And once the rain stopped and the thunder had passed, a new noise entered the landscape — a distinctive long, low trill that could be heard from some distance away. With our head-torches on, we ventured outside to the house dam, which at this stage was filling up with not just water, but also hundreds of protruding eyes and webbed feet — frogs!

Read More

BLOG 27/12/2019

Annual Malleefowl monitoring

Earlier this year I joined eight other volunteers to conduct an annual survey of Malleefowl activity on the vast Charles Darwin Reserve.

Read More

BLOG 30/10/2019

Plucking weeds from the wildflowers

Charles Darwin Reserve has once again celebrated its annual spring weeding session. A group of enthusiastic weeders donned their armor and attacked the inevitable, but diminishing crops of Patterson’s Curse, Double Gees and Brassicas.

Read More

BLOG 01/07/2019

Swept away by Santalaceae

Ecologist Georgina Gould-Hardwick writes about her time spent submersing herself into Santalaceae science at our Eurardy and Charles Darwin Reserves.

Read More

BLOG 13/06/2019

A gathering on Badimia Country

Bush Heritage staff and Badimia Bandi Barna Aboriginal Corporation directors gathered together in the shearing shed to discuss current and planned activities on Charles Darwin Reserve, Badimia aspirations and cultural heritage site management on the reserve.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 22/03/2019

My happy place (Will Hansen)

"When I look at her, I often find myself thinking about the things this old tree must have seen. For hundreds of years, it has been providing life-giving habitat, food and shade for countless species.”

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 11/12/2018

Darwin’s legacy

Fifteen years ago, two men sat on a log and talked long into the night. Their conversation would shape the future of the land upon which they rested.

Read More

BLOG 16/11/2018

Fauna monitoring on Charles Darwin

One thing I can say about volunteering with Bush Heritage Australia is that it's never boring. And I've just had the most action-packed week that I've had for a long time, helping-out with this year's fauna monitoring surveys on Charles Darwin Reserve in midwest Australia.

Read More

BLOG 31/10/2018

Monitoring Malleefowl mounds

Boots? Check. Gloves? Check. Sunglasses? Check. Wide-brimmed hat? Check. Shin and ankle gaiters? Check. Thorn-proof, long-sleeved shirt and trousers? Hmm... is there any such thing? As it turns out, the answer to that question is 'No' - as this year's hardy bunch of staff and volunteers discovered when we were out conducting the annual Malleefowl mound monitoring surveys on Charles Darwin Reserve.

Read More

BLOG 03/10/2018

Ecotours at Blues for the Bush

There were certainly a lot of highlights at this year's Blues for the Bush music festival at Charles Darwin Reserve, but for me, and many other festival-goers, easily one of the stand-out, most-popular events on offer were the ecotours around the reserve.

Read More

BLOG 27/09/2018

Move over Hollywood

Move over Hollywood! 'Cos while Tinseltown may be famous for having the Blues Brothers, here at Charles Darwin Reserve, we've got something bigger and better: an entire Blues Family.

Read More

BLOG 10/08/2018

The restorative power of poo

This one was produced by an emu and is full of Sandalwood seeds. The species was harvested extensively but is now regenerating.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 27/03/2018

Eye in the sky

On Charles Darwin and Eurardy reserves in Western Australia, the innovative use of a remote sensing technology is marking the start of a new era in Malleefowl monitoring.

Read More

BLOG 24/11/2017

Let it rain – refilling a natural water tank

This experience made my week! We had rangers Vaughan Lane and Lindsey Callow, both Badimaya men from the Midwest Aboriginal Ranger Program who are working in partnership with the Northern Agricultural Catchments Council and Western Mulga, out at Charles Darwin Reserve in Western Australia recently to clear out a rock hole. What happened next was just extraordinary.

Read More

BLOG 23/05/2017

Sandpad monitoring at Charles Darwin

Brian Martin and Brian Crute are valued Bush Heritage volunteers who help with the seasonal sand pad monitoring on Charles Darwin Reserve in Western Australia. Here Brian Martin provides an account of this autumn's sand pad monitoring.

Read More

BLOG 28/02/2017

LiDAR mapping for Malleefowl

As part of a collaborative project we used the latest technology – LiDAR – to map new Malleefowl mounds in the region and in Spring we went and visited hundreds of these potential mound locations.

Read More

BLOG 27/09/2016

Blues for the Bush 2016

Delights of the beautiful Charles Darwin Reserve were shared with over 1,400 people on the weekend at Blues for the Bush 2016. This fantastic event brought together people from around WA and further afield to learn about our conservation effort in the rangelands and to be inspired by nature, amazing art, music, food and creativity.

Read More

BLOG 27/07/2016

Climate change study at Charles Darwin

Dr Nic Dunlop from the Conservation Council of Western Australia (CCWA) has been running a citizen science program on Charles Darwin Reserve for the past 10 years. Here Nic discusses the science program and how Charles Darwin Reserve has become a meeting place for the scientific community.

Read More
{{itemsInCart}} Items - {{formatCurrency(grandTotal)}}