Ecological monitoring

Ecological and activity monitoring is conducted on our reserves and partnership properties. Here's the process in a nutshell.

Selecting monitoring sites

A pitfall trap set at Naree Station, NSW. Photo Martin Filipczyks.
A pitfall trap set at Naree Station, NSW. Photo Martin Filipczyks.
When establishing a site, information gathered during our initial land assessments and surveys is combined with expert and local knowledge to create the plan for bringing the land back to good health.

We identify the threatened species or groups of species, vegetation communities and note whether ecological systems (such as water absorption into the soil, carbon cycling or pollination) are functioning well.

We identify the factors that are threatening these values and develop strategies to reduce the threats. Monitoring sites are established to track our progress. 

Measuring a Dusky Hopping Mouse recorded at Boolcoomatta, SA. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Measuring a Dusky Hopping Mouse recorded at Boolcoomatta, SA. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Our Aboriginal Partners identify ecologically and culturally significant sites and provide advice on how they should be managed and by whom. 

At monitoring sites we measure a number of ‘indicators’ (factors that tell us about the condition of species or ecosystems at the site). By measuring these indicators we learn:

  • the condition of vegetation and soils. When we compare the results from year to year we can detect any changes in condition.
  • the presence or absence of native and feral species using motion-sensor cameras, sand pads (in which passing animals leave footprints), ‘trap and release’ techniques and various other survey strategies.
  • bird diversity and abundance, which are good general indicators of ecosystem health
  • water quality. 

Our measures tell us if our strategies are working, or whether we should consider different activities to achieve better results.

The key conservation targets (or values) include special elements of the landscape – perhaps threatened species or groups of species, vegetation communities or ecosystem processes, such as water filtration, carbon cycling or pollination.

Working on the land

With a clear plan in place, work on the land begins with reserve managers, ecologists and volunteers working together to implement the plan. Monitoring what we do is a key part of our work plan.

Collecting data

Red-Tailed Phascogales at Kojonup Reserve are regularly monitored to confirm the success of their relocation. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Red-Tailed Phascogales at Kojonup Reserve are regularly monitored to confirm the success of their relocation. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Monitoring then begins. At each site we measure the state of the biodiversity indicators selected by our ecologists. These give us valuable information about what's happening at the site and, over time, data allows 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 land. It helps us understand how the natural systems on each property work, including how the threats are affecting the land and its wildlife and how we can adapt our strategies to better mitigate those threats.

Match changes to actions

The changes emerging in the landscape will reflect the management actions that have influenced them. We can compare our human ‘outputs’, such as erosion control workcontrolled burns, and feral animal and weed management to the ‘outcomes’ we see in the recovery of the land and in the improved health of the species and ecosystems. As our understanding grows we'll be better able to judge the best actions to take to achieve the desired ecological results.

Storing and analysing data

David Nelson (University of Sydney Research Assistant) downloads data from a weather station on Ethabaka. Photo Kate Cranney.
David Nelson (University of Sydney Research Assistant) downloads data from a weather station on Ethabaka. Photo Kate Cranney.
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 are records of vegetation productivity derived 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, as we add monitoring sites to our reserves and properties where we help our partners, we'll be able to see changes in the vegetation and bird populations, potentially 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.

Presenting results

Ecologist Ben Parkhurst checks a reptile trap. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Ecologist Ben Parkhurst checks a reptile trap. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
It takes several years of monitoring to be able to account for normal environmental fluctuations that result from differences in rainfall and temperature. But outside these natural variations we can see changes resulting from our management work.

On properties that we've monitored for a number of years (see our 5-year reserve scorecards) we've seen improvements in bird diversity and abundance, recovery of degraded ecosystems, improvements in the health of vegetation communities, springs and waterways, recovery of keystone plants and animal species.

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