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Observing Environmental Change in Australia: Conversations for Sustainability


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A comprehensive and engaging review of how the past decade of Australian Government research infrastructure investment has transformed our understanding of the environment.

Observing Environmental Change in Australia – Conversations for Sustainability covers the monitoring of environmental change, urbanisation and land-use changes, biodiversity, extreme events, climate, carbon and water.

Chapters detail the importance of Indigenous knowledge, the use of satellite remote sensing and drones, and managing ‘big data’. The book concludes with descriptions of visualising environmental information, emerging technologies, and the importance of engaging the community.

Published in: Environment
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Observing Environmental Change in Australia: Conversations for Sustainability

  1. 1. Conversations for sustainability inaustralia OBSERVING ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE By Paul Holper & Simon Torok
  2. 2. We could not have embarked on this book without the vision, guidance and assistance from Beryl Morris, TERN’s Director, and we could not have completed it without the contributions and unfailing, enthusiastic support from Mark Grant, TERN’s Science Communication and Engagement Manager. It has been a pleasure to have interviewed many of the leading and most influential ecologists in Australia to hear how TERN and other NCRIS infrastructure have supported successful science for the past decade. Without exception, they were unfailing in their preparedness to help us. Thank you to the following researchers: Alan Andersen Lee Belbin Emma Burns Clint Chapman James Cleverly Anne Cust Serryn Eagleson Emilie Ens Martin Forsius Peter Grace Aaron Greenville Greg Guerin Vanessa Haverd Alex Held Nina Hinko-Najera Alfredo Huete Lindsay Hutley Mirko Karan Jesse King John Le Marshall Adam Lewis Mike Liddell Hank Loescher Arko Lucieer Stefan Maier Michael Mirtl Caitlin Moore Glenn Newnham Stuart Phinn Andries Potgieter Suzanne Prober Luigi Renzullo Sarah Richmond Jeremy Russell-Smith David Schimel Bob Scholes Rowena Smith Ben Sparrow Sarah Taylor Jim Thompson Albert van Dijk Stephen van Leeuwen David Watson Mark Westoby Ross Wilkinson Dick Williams Will Woodgate Marta Yebra ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS CONTENTS Introduction 05 1 Tracking environmental changes 09 2 Urbanisation 21 3 Indigenous knowledge 31 4 Extreme events 45 5 Land and terrain 55 6 Biodiversity 69 7 Climate, carbon and water 79 8 Satellite remote sensing 93 9 Big data 103 10 Visualising environmental data 113 11 Engaging the community 119 12 Emerging technologies 127 Index 140 - Paul Holper and Simon Torok © TERN Australia at The University of Queensland 2019 All rights reserved. Except under the conditions described in the Australian Copyright Act 1968 and subsequent amendments, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, duplicating or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. Contact for all permission requests. ISBN 798-1-74272-230-6 (paperback) ISBN 798-1-74272-231-3 (epub) Observing Environmental Change in Australia: Conversations for sustainability Holper, Paul, author Torok, Simon, author Available from TERN, The University of Queensland 4072, Australia Cover and layout design by The Piccolo Design Co. Index by Master Indexing
  3. 3.   2 Introduction 3Introduction I am delighted to commend this wonderful and important book to you. It is a rich collection of conversations with people who are passionate about the natural environment and its integration with the social, economic, cultural, political, and health aspects of sustainability. The chapters capture the voice of Australian and international researchers sharing how they measure changes in Australia’s environment over time and space, the equipment they use and the data they gather, share and interpret. The book delivers a collection of stories that are engaging, thought provoking and as colourful and diverse as our environment. Many of the individuals who share their stories here are linked in some way to projects funded by the Australian Government. Some of their funding is via the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), a program designed to allow strategic investment in research infrastructure in a coordinated way across the nation. Through NCRIS, the Australian government provides AU$150 million each year to fund more than twenty research projects that span the country. Whereas much of the government research funding supports important individual projects, NCRIS funds are different in that they provide services (referred to as research infrastructure in this book) in a more integrated way. During the tenth anniversary year of NCRIS support, the funded projects jointly organised a symposium held in Canberra in May 2017 and entitled Greater FOREWORD By Professor Lyn Beazley AO FAA FTSE Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) Advisory Board Chair Impact through Environmental Infrastructure. It celebrated the collaborations and impact of 10 years of investment into environmental infrastructure. Pleasingly, following the symposium, even more collaborations are underway, many of which are shaping the future through innovations that in turn, enable further impact. The symposium also marked the origins of this book when TERN invited science writers Paul Holper and Simon Torok to attend. We are delighted that they were interested in converting some of the talks into stories about what researchers are achieving now using the data, equipment and expertise that NCRIS funding has made possible. Paul and Simon have considerable science writing experience, having worked with the Commonwealth Science and Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO) as communicators. In addition, they have helped produce secondary school science textbooks and information resources on topics including climate change as well as editing science magazines for young people. Here they have thoroughly embraced their brief to make environmental research infrastructure relevant and interesting to the public and especially to upper secondary and early tertiary level students. Writing for these audiences is important. At present, there is little information available to the aspiring ecologists, environmental scientists and eco- informaticists of tomorrow about what their future workplace might look like or what sort of people their colleagues might be. The book is designed to fill the gap between technical textbooks requiring prerequisite knowledge and TV environmental documentaries that tend to concentrate on the most dramatic landscapes and/or charismatic presenters. The invitation to write this book came from TERN, so understandably a great deal of the book’s focus is on TERN’s activities and successes since inception. Indeed, publication of the book forms the start of TERN’s own 10th anniversary celebrations. However, mirroring the increasing levels of integration and collaboration between NCRIS projects, TERN’s research infrastructure and data are rightfully only part of this book and hence you will find chapters and beautiful photos covering aspects of Australian ecosystem science applicable to those beyond TERN. Given the complexity of environmental challenges studied by researchers, achieving results requires numerous national and international partnerships, collaborations, and networks. As an NCRIS project, TERN collaborates with Australian and international universities, industry groups, research organisations, government agencies, and governments at every level to facilitate excellent research and find and implement practical, scientifically-based solutions to support the research. As your national terrestrial ecosystem research infrastructure, TERN will continue to provide evidence-based data and data services to the community, industry, and government on understanding environmental change. I hope you enjoy this book and that it wins your support for the importance of systematically collected long-term quality data streams for environmental research and management in a rapidly changing world.  Credit: Suzanne Long
  4. 4.   4 Introduction 5Introduction The Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) is Australia’s national instrument for measuring and observing changes in the country’s land-based ecosystems over time, providing a wealth of data to enable environmental research and management. TERN examines Australian ecosystems and ecosystem processes at different scales in space and time, producing measurements ranging from microns to whole of continent and from seconds to centuries. TERN provides open access to Australia’s land- based ecosystem monitoring infrastructure, data and research tools to assist scientists in understanding the environment and in determining what is necessary for long-term sustainable management of Australia’s ecosystems. TERN uses consistent and standard ecosystem measures to observe and monitor changes in ecosystem biodiversity across the continent. The concept of ecosystems is at the heart of international agreements, Australian legislation, and modern policy and planning principles that aim to sustainably manage natural resources. TERN’s observations and measurements record processes such as disturbance cycles, and flows of energy, nutrients and non-living materials, all of which contribute to assessments of ecosystem health. The Australian Government established TERN in 2009 with $20 million from the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) and $4.1 million from the Queensland State Government. Over the years, TERN has received further NCRIS funding along with cash and in-kind support from dozens of Australian universities, state and federal agencies, other Australian organisations and international groups. INTRODUCTION ‘The exciting science we hear about in 30 years will be the product of the research infrastructures we are constructing now.’ International Conference on Research Infrastructures ‘Visions of the Future’, Vienna, 14 September 2018 Credit: Yincai Zhou
  5. 5.   6 Introduction 7Introduction NATIONAL DATA COLLECTION: FIELD, AIRBORNE, AND SATELLITE DATA INTEGRATION, ANALYSIS, AND DELIVERY land cover biodiversity carbon & water From close up to the view from space TERN comprises a terrestrial ecosystem field observatory supported by data services and analytical capabilities. There are three scales of observation. Ecosystem processes monitoring collects extensive data at a small number of ‘SuperSites’. These sites combine instrumented or sensor measurements, usually from high flux towers, with field measurement of biophysical and ecological variables. Ecosystem surveillance monitoring enables monitoring and detection of biodiversity change across vast areas. TERN has a network of hundreds of monitoring plots located in representative locations, environments and biomes. Landscape monitoring is performed mostly with remote sensing techniques based on satellite data, with increasing use of airborne data from drones. TERN also undertakes modelling and synthesis activities to extend and supplement observational data to produce a range of data products. These products include nation-wide assessments of vegetation and soil, and extensive weather data. By combining these measurements, performed at various scales, TERN efficiently provides researchers – and others – with extensive information about the workings of our ecosystems and the way in which human pressures and environmental changes are affecting them. In essence, TERN provides tools for collecting ecosystem data, primarily relating to carbon and water, biodiversity and land and terrain. It produces the data, and delivers infrastructure that lets people access and use that data. It offers nationally consistent monitoring methods, data collection and publishing tools. TERN makes the information and knowledge that it collects, along with data collected by others, readily available to researchers and others across Australia and around the world. The TERN motto is to help ‘anyone anywhere’ take advantage of its data and of its suite of infrastructure for ecosystem monitoring. Responding to the challenge processes. … the usefulness of environmental and related data will be magnified if it can be effectively transformed into information products that are meaningful to a broad audience and relevant to the issues of today and tomorrow.’ The report noted that ‘better information, combined with evidence-based decision-making, will support better management’. TERN has made a significant contribution to delivering the sorts of systems envisaged in the TERN collects and makes available data from across the Australian landscape, helping to build a picture of the state of our environment and the changes that it is experiencing. The infrastructure that TERN is delivering is the most important change in science in this country in over a century. For the first time in our history, environmental research has been provided with a system that truly enhances the capacity of a researcher to find resources they need and facilitate a collaborative environment …TERN represents a major breakthrough in how we do our science. Professor Kris French, President (2014), Ecological Society of Australia The 2011 Australian State of the Environment report concluded by highlighting the importance of collecting, communicating and applying environmental data. The report acknowledged that ‘… collecting information is not enough. Creating and using systems that allow efficient access to environmental information are great national-scale challenges. Such systems would allow scientists and managers to analyse and make connections in the data, so that they can begin to understand the links among various aspects of ecological more than more than more than more than peer-reviewed papers using TERN dataopen datasets ecosystem observing sites national & international partners year continuity for datasets more than
  6. 6.   8 Introduction 9Introduction State of the Environment report and provides information to answer some of Australia’s most pressing environmental questions, including: • How are our ecosystems responding to environmental pressures, and how might positive trends be enhanced and harm decreased? • How is our environment likely to alter in the future, for example in response to a changing climate? Chapter1 Nationally and Globally TRACKING ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGES • How are significant environmental assets – soils, carbon stocks, water, vegetation and biodiversity – responding to such changes and to their management? • How resilient are the ecosystem services on which our society and many of our industries depend, such as soil health, nutrient cycling, fire mitigation, provision of clean water, crop pollination and carbon sequestration? This book describes some of the exciting tools and applications that TERN, other NCRIS facilities, and their collaborators have created and fostered over the past decade. Credit: Mark Grant
  7. 7.   The Australian landscape has changed significantly over the past 200 years; especially since the mid-1900s. Soon after the first permanent European settlement was established in Sydney Cove in 1788, people began clearing vegetation so they could plant crops and raise animals. By the 1980s, 38 per cent of Australia’s forests had been severely modified by clearing, with eucalypt forests being the most affected. Much of the remaining native vegetation is highly fragmented. Today, agricultural businesses operate across a little over half of Australia’s total land area. There has been a significant reduction in the abundance of large trees across a range of ecosystems. Large living and dead trees with hollows provide important nesting places for more than 40 species of native animals, such as the endangered Leadbeater’s Possum in mountain ash forests. Australia’s population has more than doubled in the past 50 years, reaching 25 million in 2018. Population is projected to hit 40 million by 2055. Population growth in Australia and overseas increases the demand for food, so native vegetation is steadily giving way to agriculture. We have lost vast tracts of rainforests, coastal wetlands, temperate woodlands and mallee, and almost all of south eastern Australia’s temperate lowland grasslands. To quote the maxim, ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’, if we are serious about protecting existing forests, regenerating degraded forests and preserving precious ecosystems and our native biodiversity, the approaches must be based on evidence. TERN infrastructure is doing just this: measuring, monitoring and enabling better understanding of the changes. Globally, the benefits from ecosystem services represent over $125 trillion per year, well in excess of the global gross domestic product, which measures the market value of all goods and services produced. Ecosystem services are arguably the most valuable component of the Australian economy, contributing at least as much and possibly more than manufacturing and service industries. However, we are experiencing a time of unprecedented rate of change and challenges for Australia’s diverse terrestrial ecosystems and the services they provide to our industries and communities. Many of the impacts on Australia’s environment know no borders. Climate change and invasion by exotic plants and animals are just two examples of external environmental pressures. Effective responses to these pressures include incorporating the latest international findings and experiences. Scientific research has never progressed in isolation. Researchers travel and collaborate internationally to seek and apply new and innovative ideas, findings and techniques. A major report released in 2014 by Australia’s former Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, stated, ‘Among the benefits of international collaboration in research are expanding researchers’ capacity to respond to complex problems by drawing on diverse skills and perspectives, reducing unnecessary duplication of research effort, and broadening the scale and scope of research teams.’ International research collaboration ranges from individual scientists working together, to joint research programs involving numerous researchers from many nations. It can entail sharing physical research infrastructure, online networks and research data and formally linking research centres. The rate of the internationalisation of science has accelerated in recent decades. Importantly, many of the most pressing environmental challenges will require global concerted action and research infrastructures can provide a means to bundle limited resources for a greater impact. Creating a record for the future ‘Our main objective should be to leave a useful record for people 70 to 100 years from now. Our descendants will regard us as having failed if we don’t leave some sort of sensible record. They will forgive us for not measuring everything that they would like to have, but they won’t forgive us for not trying.’ This is the view of Professor Mark Westoby, one of Australia’s most eminent ecologists. ‘Sadly, there is no group to lobby on behalf of our descendants a hundred years from now,’ Mark says. Mark is a former TERN Advisory Board member. His research in the field of evolutionary ecology has helped us understand how ecosystems are influenced by the life histories, appearance, vertical structure, growth and tissue traits of plants. ‘Ecology seemed interestingly complicated,’ Mark says. ‘My father worked as a development economist for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in Rome. I saw potential in science that related to better land use.’ A summer expedition to northern Kenya sparked Mark’s interest in deserts, especially interactions between plants and herbivores. After completing a science degree at the University of Edinburgh, he travelled to Utah to undertake a PhD, and then continued heading west to Macquarie University in Sydney, where he has worked for more than 40 years. ‘I have been thinking about the shape of ecological knowledge in Australia since the 1970s. A priority for research programs both here and internationally is monitoring for the long term – decades and centuries. I seek a coherent record of ecological change for people 100 years from now,’ Mark says. ‘In Australia, state land management agencies have tried to do this, but it hasn’t lasted, it’s inconsistent and doesn’t provide coverage nationally. We need to keep measuring. Too often plots are established and funded for 10-15 years and then shut down. All we can do is try to make sensible guesses about the data that are needed and then do the best we can with the limited money available.’ Mark regards ecological monitoring as ‘important morally’ and something that just won’t happen without a proper national program. ‘My top priority for monitoring would be to track the movement of perennial plant species across the landscape at continental scale. TERN has begun to do this. TERN’s plot-based plant and soil surveillance monitoring program is undertaking baseline assessments of ecosystems across the country. TRACKING ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGES NATIONALLY AND GLOBALLY Credit: Korean Long-term Ecological Research Network ‘A priority for research programs both here and internationally is monitoring for the long term – decades and centuries. I seek a coherent record of ecological change for people 100 years from now.’ 10 Chapter 1 Tracking Environmental Changes 11Chapter 1 Tracking Environmental Changes
  8. 8.   There are more than 600 sites now, with botanical composition measured at each location. The plots are mainly in rangeland ecosystems but plots are being added in forests and managed lands.’ ‘600 sites sound like a lot, but they are a long way apart. We need more locations and better integration with remote sensing, which continues to get better. It can give us ground resolution of five centimetres at less than ten dollars per square kilometre per year. There is lots of potential for using new generation remote sensing in conjunction with site visits. High-resolution aircraft photography lets us track individual woody plants once their identity has been established by a ground visit.’ Climate change is affecting Australian flora and fauna, so monitoring its impacts and the effects of human disturbances more generally will be important. ‘We could lose maybe half of the endemic species with the climate change that seems likely over the next century,’ Mark says. We need reliable information in order to adapt to the changes and to try to reduce their impacts on important ecosystems and ecosystem services. Mark likens monitoring our ecology to teaching Australian history in schools. ‘We are creating a record for the future; it’s important for nationhood. We owe it to our descendants to build a record of what’s happened across the landscape. It is part of what citizenship and loving your country means. It’s a conservative idea in the political sense. It’s similar to the reason we teach history and fund a national museum or war memorial – in order to feel they belong on a continent, people need a common understanding of how it has come to be the way they see it.’ Ecological research at the global scale We are all highly dependent on the world’s natural resources. Ecosystems are complex structures that interact in many ways, few of which are fully understood. Ecosystem and biodiversity researchers strive to comprehend and disentangle the fundamental governing processes and the way in which they behave. There are a number of ‘grand questions’ that researchers such as Dr Michael Mirtl, the Chairman of the International Long Term Ecological Research Network (ILTER) and LTER- Europe, and his colleagues ask: • How are ecosystems/biodiversity changing or adapting to global change? • What are determinants of ecosystem resilience? • What are the critical combinations and extent of drivers that will manifest as tipping points beyond which ecosystems may be altered irreversibly? • How can societies respond locally, nationally and at international levels to sustain resilient ecosystems, their services and biodiversity? The amount of data that is needed to track and help respond to environmental change is way beyond the capacity of individual researchers or research agencies. It is only via collective effort from the research community, the users of environmental data and government that we have been able to create the environmental research infrastructure for answering the questions above and trying to deal with the practical problems of living in a world of rapid social, economic and environmental change. The networks are founded on four concepts: • Long-term: dedicated to the provisioning, documenting, continuous collection and use of long-term data on ecosystems over decades to centuries. • Site-based: data generation over different spatial scales, environmental zones and ecological regions. • Process orientation: identifying, quantifying and studying the interactions of ecosystem processes affected by internal and external forces. • Systems approach: enabling the long-term investigation of ecosystems, Earth systems, environmental systems, socio- ecological and other systems in the long-term. According to the review by Mirtl and colleagues, ‘TERN has been an exemplary model of an integrated ecosystem observatory network, as promoted by ILTER. TERN was established in 2009 by joining the forces of several ecosystem research communities in Australia, building upon existing capabilities in remote sensing, flux, and plot- based monitoring, as well as creating new capabilities to fill gaps notably in data integration and delivery, plot-based ecological surveillance monitoring, synthesis, and modelling. By building upon and integrating existing capabilities, TERN was able to rapidly deliver a national research infrastructure for ecosystem monitoring on the Australian continent, which ILTER member networks and year of accession to ILTER, showing founding members (dark magenta) and highly dynamic regions such as Europe. Credit: ILTER Credit: Mark Grant 13Chapter 1 Tracking Environmental Changes12 Chapter 1 Tracking Environmental Changes
  9. 9.   took a comprehensive approach operating at multiple temporal and spatial scales. The TERN research infrastructure covers different ecological compartments (soil, water, biodiversity, atmosphere). So, similar to the situation in Europe, the Australian terrestrial ecosystem research infrastructure built on past and current data collection activities across all levels of government, research organizations, universities, private companies and non-government organizations, and is supported by all levels of government.’ Fostering international collaboration TERN has well established international partnerships that facilitate joint research, shared infrastructure and access to data. Researchers collaborate extensively with international partners in northern America and Europe, and with their counterparts in countries including New Zealand, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and China. Australia gains much from the contributions made by TERN’s international networks; in turn, the worldwide community gains the many advances made by TERN research in Australia. The United States’ National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and TERN have a memorandum that formalises joint activities including measurement programs and sampling protocols, data products and education. The Chinese Ecosystem Research Network (CERN) is also a long- standing partner of TERN. Researchers using TERN data regularly present papers at overseas conferences and host international colleagues at conferences, workshops and meetings in Australia. There are numerous examples of TERN-based field experiments that have gained from participation by researchers from other countries. Experience from TERN is that partnerships should be founded on a mutual willingness to share data, codes, products and information. ‘The TERN concept is the future for ecosystem science. That is how we should study problems on relative scales from local to global. TERN and similar projects such as China’s CERN, are good models for the European Union and we should move in that direction.’ This endorsement came from Professor Martin Forsius of the Finnish Environment Institute at an international ecological research meeting in Chile in 2014. Australian researchers routinely use international infrastructure, datasets and analyses to help solve Australian problems and advance our science. We gain considerably from international connections. For example, Australia has agreements with international space agencies that allow our researchers to access international satellite infrastructure worth billions of dollars. TERN cost-effectively provides the infrastructure for Australian researchers to contribute to the calibration and validation of satellite products and to help develop a better understanding of our ecosystems and their contributions for the benefit of the nation. Reciprocity is vital if these arrangements are to continue, which means Australia must continue to develop and maintain appropriate research infrastructure, people and networks to honour international commitments. Thanks to previous NCRIS investment, TERN is considered ‘a world-leading example of building collaborative research infrastructure’ and as a result, Australia is regarded as a global leader in terrestrial ecosystem observation. We will need to continue our coordinated international participation if we are to maintain this lead and continue to contribute to, and take advantage of, global scientific advances. In the words of Dr David Schimel, a senior research scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, ‘TERN is helping to bring about a paradigm shift in the way ecosystem science and management is done in Australia. The rest of the world is watching and hoping to learn’. Australia can be proud of the innumerable contributions that our scientists have made to advancing ecological knowledge for the benefit of ourselves and the world. • US National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) — a continental-scale ecological observation facility, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. NEON collects and provides open data that characterise and quantify complex, rapidly changing ecological processes across the United States. • The European Long-term Ecosystem Research (LTER) Network. — formal national networks and regional groups, including the 25-member LTER-Europe. • Chinese Ecosystem Research Network (CERN) — an ecosystem research network with field stations throughout China covering the fields of agriculture, forest, grassland, lake and marine ecosystems. TERN has a memorandum of understanding with CERN. • South African Ecosystem Observing Network (SAEON) — established to deliver long- term reliable data for scientific research and to inform decision making. • US Long-Term Ecological Research (US LTER) — research programs at 28 United States sites support ecological discovery on the influence of long-term and large-scale phenomenon, with over 2000 researchers applying long-term observation, experiments, and modelling to understand how ecological systems function over decades. • International Long Term Ecological Research Network (ILTER) — a ‘network of networks’, encompassing hundreds of research sites located in a wide array of ecosystems that can help understand environmental change across the globe. The focus is on long-term, site-based research and monitoring. • Analysis and Experimentation on Ecosystems (AnaEE) — a Europe-wide program that offers access to experimental platforms on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. • Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON) — a multinational initiative aimed at improving the availability of biodiversity change data to decision makers and scientists in support of policy. • International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) — the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it. • Cooperation of Research Infrastructures (COOP+) — a European Union Horizon 2020 project to address global environmental challenges. • Critical Zone Observatories (CZO) — a United States interdisciplinary collaborative research project designed to understand the chemical, physical, geological, and biological processes that both shape the surface of Earth and support terrestrial life. • Data Observation Network for Earth (DataONE) — a United States community driven collaborative program providing access to Earth and environmental data. • Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) — a set of coordinated, international Earth observation, information and processing systems that interact and provide access to diverse information for a range of users. • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations • European Space Agency • Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) — United States agency responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. TERN has helped Australia contribute to many international research infrastructure programs, including the following: Internationalresearchinfrastructureprograms Credit: Mark Grant 14 Chapter 1 Tracking Environmental Changes 15Chapter 1 Tracking Environmental Changes
  10. 10.   • More than 100 international scientific projects (during just a six-month period surveyed) associated with FLUXNET, an international network of regional greenhouse gas flux monitoring networks. • Australian input into a growing number of outputs and outcomes from NASA missions including ECOSTRESS which links terrestrial observations with International Space Station measurements to better understand future food production and ecosystem stability in Australia and globally. • Better insight into predicting vegetation growth (including of crops), flood dynamics and regional weather forecasting for Australia through TERN’s contributions to NASA’s SMAP mission (global soil moisture forecasting) • Calibration, validation and collaboration on observations to support the next generation of ecosystem models associated with the NASA Orbiting Carbon Observatory. This will be NASA’s first dedicated Earth remote sensing satellite to study atmospheric carbon dioxide from space. • Australian leadership and influence in the development of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems, the international system for evidence-based scientific assessments of the risk of ecosystem collapse. • Australian contributions to the United Nations System of Environmental Economic Accounting and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. TERN science and data have been used in many international research projects, including the following: TERNcontributionstointernationalprojects ‘You have a really strong base, wonderful capabilities and amazing potential – you need to seize the day and have faith in yourself. One of the key parts of that is to bring on board early-career scientists. I have always been blown away when opportunities are opened up to young scientists by giving them responsibilities that are apparently far above their pay grade. They are very engaged by the idea of grappling with global problems – getting beyond the local and solving the big challenges of the world. Especially for countries like Australia and South Africa – towards the edge of the global community – this exposure to playing in the major leagues is a phenomenally important part to building the confidence to know that you are as good as anyone and better than most.” Professor Bob Scholes, Wits University, South Africa. ‘Australia has been in the long- term ecological research field from the beginning and has been a role model for many countries that have seen how you are developing. Situations change between countries and each one will have to find its own approach based on its particular environmental and economic conditions. The nice thing about long-term research is that there are about 40 different ways to jump into the scene. TERN has been a very good player.” Dr Manuel Mass, National Autonomous University of Mexico and former Chair of the International Long-Term Ecological Research Network (ILTER). ‘TERN is a vital part of the growing international ecosystem observatory community. The program helps provide essential services to the international community and represents a world-leading example of building collaborative research infrastructure.’ Dr Michael Mirtl, Chair of ILTER. Globalperspectives onlong-termecosystemresearch The United States experience Dr Hank Loescher is Director of Strategic Development at the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), the continental- scale ecological observation facility that is the United States equivalent of TERN, albeit at a larger scale of budget and scope. ‘The big driving force for TERN and NEON is trying to understand how ecological systems work. There are societal and economic imperatives that science is being asked to address. But we still really don’t know how these systems function,’ Hank says. ‘For example, we know the basic processes of ecosystem productivity, the nutrient cycles and gas exchange, but we do not know the range and magnitude of these processes for the extent of ecosystems worldwide. We don’t know the interplay between soil processes and climate. We don’t know how specific processes, such as ecosystem respiration, within an ecosystem interplay and are controlled by the other biotic ecosystem processes themselves.’ ‘We must know more about these processes to understand the impacts of climate change and global environmental changes and to be able to plan, manage and adapt to these changes.’ ‘Here is an example. You and I as organisms hunker down for the winter and put on a little weight, and in the summer we become more physically active and get thinner. We respond to our environment. Ecosystems also have flexible responses. But there are limits to this flexibility. If it is getting warmer and you are a tree accustomed to colder climate, over long, evolutionary time scales you can move to more favourable locations. But plants simply can’t move as quickly as climate change is occurring.’ Hank makes a distinction between ecosystem observatories and long- term networks. ‘Environmental observatories enable the research; they gather large-scale environmental data in a consistent, 17Chapter 1 Tracking Environmental Changes16 Chapter 1 Tracking Environmental Changes
  11. 11.   quality-controlled manner. The long- term networks are run by scientists conducting discovery-based science who collect the information to test their hypotheses.’ ‘Coordinated large-scale experiments are also important because for us to advance our understanding of ecology and address society problems, we must understand how to predict what will occur. We do this with robust theories tested and challenged with observations and models. But we need to elucidate non-linear behaviour of ecosystem processes with experiments. Challenging scientific theories with experiments and measurements ultimately helps our predictive powers.’ ‘Many ecological processes are non-linear. That is, there may be tipping points or sudden changes. So, we need experiments and process studies to reveal these processes and responses. Combining theory, observations, models and experiments is not a static process; quite the contrary, to enhance our predictive ability we need to do this dynamically and iteratively over time.’ ‘All these approaches, observatories, networks and large experiments have strengths and weaknesses. We need different types of data that cover time, space and scientific depth in ways that help us understand a world we don’t yet fully comprehend.’ Hank expands on this point in the preface to Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Infrastructures: Challenges and Opportunities: ‘The future of our planet faces rapid increases in population and, along with it, changes in global consumption patterns and the increased burden on our natural resources and the ecosystem services that they provide. Yet, we do not know the effects of these chronic, long-term drivers on how ecosystems function and their respective feedbacks to our consumptive demands—and perhaps more importantly, on the ecosystems that provide our food, habitats, fresh water, natural resources, conservation areas, and quality of life. Hence, there is an increased need for environmental scientists to work with other stakeholders to advance our ecological understanding and to provide informed decision making tools in light of this changing world. To understand how anthropogenic change affects ecosystems and their economies and the services they provide is a societal and scientific imperative.‘ There is a saying that the more you learn the more you realise you don’t know. This saying is particularly relevant to scientific understanding of our natural environment. ‘One of the big unknowns is microbes,’ says Hank. ‘They are all around us, all the time. We are learning more and more about the microbial community and the processes they control. There is an unbelievable amount of microbial diversity and we know very little about how microbes function. There are so many microbes on the outside of a tree that you could remove the tree and still see its shape!’ While TERN and NEON are similar programs with comparable objectives, their genesis was different. In 2001, the United States National Academy of Science set out the challenges that face society and science in addressing the changing environment. Ecological researchers and others identified ‘grand challenge’ areas of research driven by climate change, land-use change, and invasive species. NEON was specifically designed to address these challenges at the continental scale. ‘NEON is an entirely new entity. We took the grand challenges and built the program from the bottom up. Conversely, TERN integrated several existing programs. In many ways our development paths were diametrically opposite,’ Hank says. ‘We have worked together to consider each other’s lessons learned. TERN has had to think a great deal about data, data products, metadata; so has NEON and we have learned from the TERN approach.’ Metadata is a term meaning ‘data about data’ and includes the quality, format, location and contact information associated with a data collection to make it more scientifically useful and reproducible. ‘Thanks to national programs like NEON and TERN, we can now ask and tackle questions that span whole continents. For example, the genesis and propagation of drought across the United States are very different from that in Australia. The feedback mechanisms between drought and plants have implications for society. For the first time we can make global comparisons. This helps us understand how in future whole ecosystems are going to behave and use water, with huge implications for ecosystem and crop productivity. There is great economic relevance to these questions, with profound impacts on global markets.’ Looking to the future, Hank sees the strong need to demonstrate economic relevance and application of ecological monitoring and observation programs. One way of doing this is via joint public and private enterprises. ‘The potential of the investment by government is still being realised. We face shrinking budgets and the reluctance by some to acknowledge climate change.’ ‘We are looking at downstream innovation including value-added products. We are incorporating different revenue streams into our approach, leading to creating jobs and economies in new ways.’ Hank and his colleagues see exciting joint venture opportunities in areas including insurance and risk management, agronomic futures, water resource management, extreme climate, greenhouse gas mitigation, and the carbon economy. TERN is a key player in an international effort to create a global network that would observe and assess the state of ecosystems worldwide. The proposed global ecosystem observatory would provide sound, science-based guidance to policy makers and planners responsible for managing and protecting our ecosystems. In 2016, TERN hosted a meeting in Brisbane that brought together leaders of sister ecosystem observing networks from around the world. Representatives from seven national observing networks joined European and international program delegates to discuss ways of building on existing linkages and fostering global collaboration to create a worldwide ecosystem observatory. In 2017, TERN representatives followed up the meeting with further GEO and ILTER-led discussions in China, Vietnam and France with leaders of ecosystem observing networks from around the world. Seekingaglobalecosystemobservatory 18 Chapter 1 Tracking Environmental Changes 19Chapter 1 Tracking Environmental Changes
  12. 12. 2120 Chapter2 URBANISATION Shutting the city gates on pests and diseases ‘When moving to a more urbanised environment that’s more intensive in terms of human interaction, you need to know those ecosystems are still providing the service of clean air and water. For example, soil filters the water that ends up in the water supply. We’re providing information that shows the impact on the air, water and soil in these semi-rural areas that are highly productive. They produce pasture and provide other human services.’ Prof. Peter Grace Queensland University of Technology  
  13. 13.   22 Chapter 2 Urbanisation 23Chapter 2 Urbanisation the past 20 to 30 years, with global trade of goods and people travelling around the world hugely increasing the biosecurity risks we face.’ The main biosecurity threats aren’t always obvious. ‘Many people have a view that biosecurity risk is higher in farming areas in the country, but almost every case of foot and mouth disease from around the world has come from pigs in urban areas,’ Jim says. And while Hendra in horses or foot and mouth disease in livestock are well known, the most prevalent pests and diseases are ones that affect plants. ‘Most invasives are plant pests,’ Jim says. ‘For example, in Queensland there are 40 or so new pests and diseases identified each year, up to 35 of which are plant-related.’ Governments around Australia handle many dozens of pest and disease notifications a year. There were more than 120 biosecurity risks in 2016 alone, including red imported fire ants at Brisbane airport, white spot disease of prawns in southeast Queensland, and Khapra beetle in South Australia. Investment in infrastructure is important for monitoring biosecurity. ‘You need systems that are used in “peace time” and “war time”,’ Jim says. ‘In peace time, a lot of data are collected through routine surveillance programs. You need these to be available at all times. Then you also need these systems in war time – when there is a disease or pest incursion, you need a response with heightened surveillance, more monitoring, more recording of data, lab testing and a range of other activities.’ He says long records of past pest and disease data are also important so that scientists can develop forecasts of when pests and diseases are likely to occur, and understand the likely pests and diseases that may come to Australia in future. Consistency across organisations is also important, with biosecurity a shared responsibility between governments, industry and the community. ‘You need to address biosecurity at a national scale, and for this you need consistency in programs across Australia, in labs, in the field, and in day-to-day operations rather than each state doing its own thing.’ He explains that the Commonwealth government polices the border, with the states policing pests and diseases when they cross borders. ‘For nationally significant pests, if a state can keep it internal, that’s a great saving for all states. So, costs are shared. If one state has a problem, then all states will help pay for eradication.’ There has been a national effort to get systems and processes consistently built and maintained, with the Australian Biosecurity Intelligence Network funded by the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) allowing organisations to interconnect. ‘We’ve also made leaps and bounds on a national system for testing in laboratories for new pests and diseases,’ Jim says. Most of Australia’s population growth is happening in our capital cities, particularly in outer suburbs and inner cities, and along the coast. The concentration of Australia’s urban population near the coast creates substantial pressure on coastal ecosystems and environments in the east, southeast and southwest of the country. As our cities expand, housing, roads and other infrastructure replace natural habitats, biodiversity is threatened, and there is an increased risk of pests and diseases being introduced. Increased coastal development amplifies existing environmental pressures, such as biodiversity loss and climate change. For example, local increases to temperature, known as the urban heat island effect, occur due to changes in the land surface, including denser materials and darker surfaces that absorb more heat than natural landscapes. This can result in cities being several degrees warmer than surrounding non-urban areas. Cities contain substantially more threatened species per unit area than non-urban areas. In Melbourne, for example, half of the approximately 40,000 new dwellings built each year are in new greenfield sites. Melbourne’s outskirts encroach to the west on the threatened Grassy Eucalypt Woodland of the Victorian Volcanic Plain, with clearing of woodland remnants to make way for urban development. In many other cities, urbanisation has occurred in areas that once had high biodiversity, destroying or threatening the viability of many species. On the other hand, cities can provide an attractive habitat for plants and animals because of abundant food and shelter. Some locations, such as railway lines, abandoned industrial sites and urban wetlands, can be rich in native species. However, urbanisation does represent a range of threats – and some opportunities – for biodiversity. Human settlements are often the entry point for introduced species, such as non- native invasive garden plants, which comprise an estimated 72 per cent of environmental weeds that affect biodiversity. Notorious animal invaders include cane toads (Rhinella marina), European red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), black rats (Rattus rattus), European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and feral cats (Felis catus). Shutting the city gates on pests and diseases Urbanisation and changes to the environment around cities lead to huge risks in biosecurity through the introduction of invasive pests and diseases. As places become more urban, the biosecurity risk to Australia rises. ‘Urbanisation and biosecurity go hand in glove,’ says Dr Jim Thompson, Chief Biosecurity Officer for Queensland and Acting CEO at the Queensland Museum Network. ‘That is where the greatest risks of pests and diseases are emerging. This includes marine pests introduced around ports, with the unloading of containers being a city-based activity.’ Jim says the occurrence of new pests and diseases is increasing rapidly. ‘The world has changed in URBANISATION Brownmarmoratedstinkbug Scientific name Halyomorpha halys Origin East Asia Pathways Hitchhiker on imported goods At Risk 300 agricultural plant species SHUTTING THE CITY GATES ON PESTS AND DISEASES
  14. 14.   24 Chapter 2 Urbanisation 25Chapter 2 Urbanisation models to simulate what’s happening in the environment now, so it can then be run forwards or backwards to see what’s happened in the past and what is going to happen in the future. We’re doing ongoing monitoring, looking at trends, and predicting what will happen in future, so we can see how we can intervene.’ One of the reasons for looking at the peri-urban, semi-rural environment is to ensure the developing ecosystem is still providing us with quality air and quality water. ‘When moving to a more urbanised environment that’s more intensive in terms of human interaction, you need to know those ecosystems are still providing the service of clean air and water. For example, soil filters the water that ends up in the water supply. We’re providing information that shows the impact on the air, water and soil in these semi-rural areas that are a highly productive. They produce pasture and provide other human services.’ The SuperSite hosted an experiment to compare greenhouse gas emissions over a natural woodland, agricultural pasture, and a developed, urban golf course. ‘We measured methane and nitrous oxide for a year at all three of them. The results told a clear story that you see much more greenhouse gas emissions from urban lawns compared to native woodland, due to management activities such as applying fertiliser. Turf grass is the main peri-urban land cover, so in terms of contribution to global warming you need to understand the impact of conversion from rural to semi-rural environments, and how natural sites will change or adapt in terms of climate change.’ Peter says that recording soundscapes is another example of how the SuperSite monitors the changing environment. Sounds can include large amounts of information that can be stored and later analysed to identify the range and number of species, study individual species’ behaviour, or identify changes in the environment over long periods (see Chapter 12, The symphony of nature). ‘Instead of counting birds, or identifying when a particular bird is present, or tracking birds’ migration patterns, you can use sound to do automatic identification and look at ecosystem health,’ he says. ‘You can listen to the sounds and, over time, put it all together, do analytics, and show the evolving health of the ecosystem. What started as collaboration with Michigan State University in the USA to roll out acoustic monitoring sensors on the SuperSite to study ecosystem health has now expanded to a national network, led by Professor Paul Roe.’ Peter says data and results from the SuperSite are shared with the TERN community to make the research more cost effective, rather than reinventing the wheel. ‘We’ve learned a lot from other people. TERN is not just used by ecologists, it is also used by agricultural scientists, soil scientists, plant physiologists, ecosystems scientists and others, so we’re looking at the whole system and not just isolated parts of it.’ The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has also assisted in the development of a TERN ecosystem processes monitoring SuperSite on the Mitchell Grasslands near Longreach, to see the impact of livestock production on aspects of the environment such as soil health, greenhouse gas emissions, and water use. ‘We wanted to put a SuperSite in an agricultural landscape so we could get a better idea about how to sustain our resources for food production in the long-term, in response to climate change. We’re trying to think ahead.’ Securing Australia Australia rates highly when it comes to preventing invasive pests and disease. ‘Australia is one of the leading countries in the world for biosecurity practices. Our record would be the envy of many other countries. A huge success in the past was the eradication of brucellosis and tuberculosis across Northern Australia. It took 27 years from 1970, cost almost a billion dollars at the time, but the long-term savings make this worth it.’ Jim says the eradication of equine (horse) influenza in Queensland and NSW in 2008 is another success story, as is Queensland’s eradication of citrus canker. There are many examples of containment of pests and diseases around the country. ‘Our record is pretty good.’ Successful eradication programs in the past give Jim and colleagues a belief in the national system, and that we can move quickly to deal with any introduced biosecurity threats. But the greatest challenge in biosecurity is where to spend the money. ‘We could spend all our money, and more, just dealing with pests and diseases that are established, such as cane toads, rabbits, foxes, and the more than 3000 species of weeds that have been brought into the country. But that wouldn’t be effective. The best way to spend biosecurity money is to be vigilant in monitoring new pests and diseases, and to stop them from coming into Australia in the first place.’ In other words, prevention is better than the cure. Jim says there is an ongoing need for monitoring and research to understand the priority pests and diseases in our region, and ensure work is done on how to deal with them. ‘It will get harder and harder to develop new information systems to store the data, and develop new ways to forecast where pests and diseases will come in. This is a never-ending battle.’ Monitoring rapid growth Population growth and the expansion of urban areas are leading to rapid changes in how land and resources are being used, especially along urbanised coasts. This has especially been the case in southeast Queensland, where Brisbane has the most extensive urban sprawl of all Australian cities. It’s important to keep track of how these changes affect the environment. Professor Peter Grace, Professor of Global Change at the Queensland University of Technology’s Science and Engineering Faculty, is manager of TERN’s southeast Queensland SuperSite in the Samford Valley, just outside Brisbane. This semi-rural valley has striking landscapes, natural resources including native animals and plants, and supports urban, agricultural and recreational activities. ‘The area has seen a migration of people from farming into housing developments,’ says Peter. ‘The last expanse of original vegetation is on the site, and farming still exists here, but there are developments down the road. So unlike TERN’s other SuperSites, which mostly have a pristine expanse of hundreds of thousands of hectares, we have a site that looks at the impact people have had on natural ecosystems and ecological processes over time.’ Peter and colleagues have collected almost a decade of information from the SuperSite, augmented with the university’s monitoring of greenhouse gases in the air and sampling of water in a small creek running through the site. ‘The data are used in computer ‘It will get harder and harder to develop new information systems to store the data, and develop new ways to forecast where pests and diseases will come in. This is a never-ending battle.’
  15. 15.   26 Chapter 2 Urbanisation 27Chapter 2 Urbanisation NCRIS and associated programs established AURIN in June 2010. It is a collaborative network of researchers and data providers across academia, government, and private sectors. ‘Although we provide data, the research is done elsewhere,’ says Serryn. ‘We need researchers to turn information into knowledge and wisdom. Hence, we work with partners such as the University of NSW, the RMIT Centre for Urban Research, and many others to combine data with research and analytics to provide evidence for decisions.’ For example, researchers from RMIT University and the University of Melbourne used the AURIN portal to examine the characteristics of pedestrian-vehicle crashes in Melbourne. There are over 1000 pedestrian-vehicle crashes every year in Melbourne alone, with pedestrians four times more likely to be injured in a traffic accident than other road users, and 23 times more likely to be killed. AURIN provided information from PMSA Australia about the location of health services, education Knowing the neighbourhood We’re in an era where research data are expected to be available to everyone. The Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN) is doing that job by collating and integrating a range of urban research data. ‘AURIN collects, harmonises and makes freely available data about every city in Australia,’ says Dr Serryn Eagleson, former Deputy Director of AURIN. ‘Researchers, decision- makers and people making daily decisions about their lives have ready access to extensive information.’ The urban data come from a range of different partners and data providers, including the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Property Monitor, and the Public Sector Mapping Agency. Once the data are uploaded, AURIN structures it in a way people can readily use it – by quality-controlling and standardising the data, and making access easy for people with appropriate permission. Serryn says that researchers used to have to search each city for data that probably weren’t comparable due to format differences. ‘Now, in one or two clicks you can gain access to data that used to take months to find. We’re like plumbing pipes – doing the delivery work you don’t really see.’ Delving into data AURIN has more than 3,500 multi- disciplinary datasets from more than 90 different data sources, along with tools such as spatial and statistical modelling, planning and visualisation. People can interact with the data through a user- friendly website that allows you to compare harmonised information about every city in Australia. ‘For example, you can select a measurement – anything from the number of smokers to housing rental affordability – and compare regions around Australia,’ says Serryn. ‘You can pull down data on food availability, mapping fast food outlets and fresh food access in your neighbourhood to identify local food environments. Comparing these data with types of people who live within walking distance provides an opportunity to identify who has – or more importantly, hasn’t – got access to healthy food suppliers and other services.’ Such richness of data and ease of use enable the telling of powerful stories and provides information for decision-making by government and industry. Using good quality, rich data and models in decision- making is a convincing approach for reducing potential tensions in our communities, as could be the case when property developers and conservationists clash over the need to provide land for urban development while also seeking to protect sensitive ecosystems on the urban fringe. Rich data can also uncover all sorts of interesting and odd facts – such as that more people fall from ladders in Bendigo than anywhere else in Australia. providers, playgrounds, accommodation and other potential attractors of pedestrian activity (PMSA Australia is an organisation that provides access to national data, supporting a growing range of consumer applications, and business and government services). The researchers found information such as the time of a crash was the most important factor determining the severity of pedestrian crashes in Melbourne, probably due to increased speeds: 25 per cent of crashes occurred between 7 pm and 6 am, but 60 per cent of these crashes involved fatalities or serious injury. For day- time crashes, pedestrian age was the most important feature, with increased severity of injuries for over-65s. These findings could influence road safety strategies, with speed reductions in places with lots of pedestrians potentially decreasing the severity of pedestrian-vehicle crashes. Another project examined live music in Sydney and Melbourne between the early 1980s and mid 2000s. Dr Sarah Taylor from RMIT University looked at historical maps and statistics, combined with interviews with musicians and others to understand patterns of change with live music in Australian cities. The AURIN Victorian Liquor Licensing data helped Sarah geocode music venues, and pokies data helped produce compelling maps. Her results showed that pokies have dispersed across Melbourne, but live music venues have got closer together. The research also highlighted the accessibility, reliability and trustworthiness of AURIN’s datasets. As Sarah explains, ‘The best part about AURIN was knowing that trustworthy official data was readily accessible, with no tiring and off-putting email trails required. It switched the focus to getting on with research, rather than second- guessing the available data or my ability to obtain it.’ BlackSWANS Swan River, Perth Credit: Suzanne Long Credit: Suzanne Long Traffic data visualised: spatial and temporal distribution of pedestrian crashes in Melbourne.
  16. 16.   28 Chapter 2 Urbanisation 29Chapter 2 Urbanisation There are lots of global surveys ranking cities around the world for quality of living – for example, Melbourne was rated the world’s most liveable city for seven years running by the Economist’s Global Liveability Ranking in 2017. What information makes up these indices, which in one number claim to capture the concepts of liveability, quality of life, sustainability and environmental quality? The answer is: it depends, says Serryn. ‘They hinge on what you measure, and how you aggregate it. The indices vary almost as much as the cities they try to encapsulate, and their estimation depends on many factors, including data availability, the degree of subjectivity, and the index’s purpose – horses for courses.’ Liveability indices include factors such as political stability, crime, the economic environment, limitations on personal freedom, medical and health considerations, waste disposal, air pollution, natural disasters, standard of education, electricity and water services, public transport, traffic congestion, recreation, food availability, and housing. However, research shows that the relationship between the ranking of liveability and the actual satisfaction of the cities’ inhabitants can be weak. ‘High scores on all these services don’t necessarily make people satisfied with their lives,’ says Serryn. ‘This is especially the case for residents on the urban fringe, who tend to be further from many urban services. Cities can have a good overall rating but high levels of inequality. There are different patterns of liveability within and across cities, so aggregating to an entire metropolitan area can be misleading.’ If city comparison studies are to be used for more than simply bragging rights, more detailed information needs to be collected, curated, and analysed. Serryn says that measuring individual suburbs’ health, education, services and housing is important. ‘This level of detail allows urban planners to see where to invest to improve city performance. What gets measured gets done.’ Access to useable urban data is particularly important in light of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal to ‘make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’. An aim in building resilient communities is to ‘leave no one behind as we progress’, so spatial information can show decision-makers where to target funds, which vulnerable people need help, and who may be left behind as we progress, to match the resources to the need. ‘Through AURIN, Australia has a world advantage in this unique capability of urban data access.’ Liveabilityindicesain’tliveabilityindices ‘Cities are where the greatest risks of pests and diseases are emerging. This includes marine pests introduced around ports, with the unloading of containers being a city-based activity.’ Dr Jim Thompson Chief Biosecurity Officer for Queensland
  17. 17.   chapter3 INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGECultural collaborations compare traditional and contemporary information ‘We’ve still got Yapa law and culture,’ explains one traditional owner. ‘This law comes from land and is about looking after land; we want to keep this strong and learn new ways to look after country. Our IPA is a really big area of land and we want to work together with other people, partners, to look after it.’ Central Land Council Credit: Gillian Towler 30 Chapter 1 Tracking Environmental Changes
  18. 18.   Collaborations involving traditional knowledge and contemporary science provide opportunities to share information, compare ways to monitor and manage the land, and enable knowledge exchange. Indigenous lands contain significant levels of biodiversity, and traditional practices of managing Australia’s environment are supporting collaborative environmental and resource management. The rapid expansion of Indigenous ranger programs provides new opportunities for better understanding and management of biodiversity. For example, the Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area in central Western Australia hosts diverse, nationally important ecosystems. Indigenous rangers work to control feral animals and weeds and apply traditional fire management techniques to protect biodiversity and threatened species. TERN and partners support the rangers through knowledge exchange and skills training (see this Chapter: Traditional knowledge and contemporary science collaboration in the western woodlands). TERN’s Ecosystem Surveillance platform and its partners are working with the traditional owners and rangers to share information on monitoring and managing local ecosystems. To market, to market: with carbon Traditional burning practices have improved fire management in the Australian Top End, and can help earn money by reducing greenhouse gases. However, Professor Jeremy Russell- Smith, from the Darwin Centre for Bushfire Research at Charles Darwin University, says more needs to be done for Kakadu, Litchfield and Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge National Parks to catch up with the positive results achieved in neighbouring Western Arnhem Land. His team’s research shows that managing low intensity fires earlier in the dry season is far better for the environment than uncontrolled, late season severe fires. ‘All the data and evidence show the need for fine scale burning, at scales from less than a hectare up to a square kilometre, rather than huge fires that burn thousands of kilometres – as was applied in the three parks and much of northern Australia,’ says Professor Russell- Smith, who helped run TERN’s Three Parks Savanna Fire-Effects Plot Network in the Northern Territory for two decades. Big fires lead to environmental collapse He says observations from the network have delivered the bad news that large, severe fires in the three parks have contributed to the loss of small mammals and major impacts on vulnerable plant communities in the area. ‘When you do a monitoring program, it may not turn out the way you might have expected,’ he says. ‘Over much of the 20 years of the program, fire was poorly managed in the Kakadu World Heritage area. Very large, uncontrolled fires later in the year, whether lit by managers or not, have probably contributed to the collapse of small mammal fauna and certainly affected vulnerable plant communities.’ Jeremy says that the required small, patchy burns are labour and resource-intensive – these need funding that wasn’t available in the 1990s and 2000s. ‘Budget constraints have meant that insufficient attention was paid to management of fire in this large fire- prone landscape, so big fires ran riot.’ He says the recent history of poor fire management in Kakadu, Litchfield and Nitmiluk is in stark contrast to how land is managed by Traditional Owners in nearby Western Arnhem Land. ‘In recent times, since the mid-2000s, fire management of the savanna has been part of commercial greenhouse gas reduction programs, so there has been enhanced funding available to do fine scale burning. The obvious solution for the national parks involved is to get involved in carbon markets to help pay for people to do fine scale burning.’ Jeremy says the establishment of 220 savanna plots across the three parks led to the important understanding of how it had been the big fires that decimated plants and animals. Using observations from the plots and associated fires, and detailed LANDSAT imagery, scientists have been able to get a better understanding of the relationship between fire and fauna collapse. ‘The major collapse of small mammal fauna in Kakadu isn’t simply due to too much burning – more important has been the high frequency of large fires. These findings took our understanding of fire regime impacts up to another level. It was a major product of the investment in TERN.’ Training the managers While the research findings were important, Jeremy says a greater benefit of the network has been to train park managers in how to interpret and use data. ‘It has been an ongoing monitoring program, but fundamentally it was about training managers, and there was the bonus of getting lots of research issues dealt with along the way,’ he says. ‘The greatest value was in the training, with research being one of lots of other spin offs.’ In establishing the network in 1994, Jeremy and colleagues engaged with the Traditional Owners and park managers, asking what information they needed. ‘They came up with a design that suited their requirements, with the 220 plots over the three parks focussing on change and the broad gamut of how fire-prone vegetation responded to their management actions.’ A basic component of the program has been to take a photo record of the plots every year both to monitor changes as well as the fire history. More than 20 years of photos for every plot builds up a pictorial history of what’s going on to help inform management. Detailed on-ground assessments have been conducted every five years in respective parks involving park managers and others, including Indigenous ranger groups from other locations. The good news is that recent changes in management practices are having an impact. ‘A lot of assembled data, including from the three parks program, have fed into the development of savanna burning methodologies. New methods are about reducing emissions of greenhouse gases thanks to better management of intense late dry season bushfires, so rangers do prescribed burning, break up the country and work to prevent big fire impacts.’ INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE Credit: Suzanne Prober CULTURAL COLLABORATIONS COMPARE TRADITIONAL AND MODERN CONTEMPORARY INFORMATION 32 Chapter 3 Indigenous knowledge 33Chapter 3 Indigenous knowledge
  19. 19.   He says western science is only now catching up with what Indigenous Australians already knew. ‘Aboriginal people now feel their knowledge systems are beginning to be valued, with the western science view coming around to seeing that what they’ve been doing – managing small fires from early in the year – has merit. Now people are recognising the value of traditional processes.’ Putting Indigenous biocultural knowledge on the map Respectful collection and sharing of traditional knowledge can improve our understanding and conservation of the environment – just as much as scientific measurements of the environment. ‘Physical infrastructure is necessary, but more important to our work is the social infrastructure – the people and the networks,’ says Dr Emilie Ens, from Macquarie University’s Department of Environmental Sciences. She says that TERN’s Australian Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (ACEAS) brought people from around Australia to document Indigenous biocultural knowledge. ‘This working group reviewed what biocultural knowledge had been documented over the past 200 years. So, we have drawn on the social and intellectual infrastructure more than big, physical infrastructure.’ Formerly a facility of TERN, ACEAS has created a website to showcase documented Indigenous biocultural knowledge. It has literally put traditional knowledge on the map, with the site including a map of project locations and examples of leading practice and case studies. The case studies include fire management planning, monitoring feral animals, traditional plant use, and development of a climate change adaptation tool based on traditional ecological knowledge of weather and observed environmental change. Emilie says that bringing the information together was tricky, and working with Indigenous knowledge is a sensitive topic. ‘We needed the right people with the right knowledge, and we needed to be respectful of traditional knowledge, and not take this knowledge and do something with it that is disrespectful,’ she says. ‘The working group discussed if it is even ethical to re-document knowledge that was unethically documented in the first place over the past two centuries. For example, non-Aboriginal people have written books about bush tucker without acknowledging the traditional knowledge holders as authors. Respect and acknowledgement are still ongoing issues; we’re trying to combine traditional and western knowledge respectfully so Aboriginal people are empowered rather than left behind.’ Saving species through language In work for the Atlas of Living Australia, Emilie has combined western and traditional methods of observation to identify species through cross-cultural biodiversity research. ‘We use western science observations from camera traps, cages, pitfall traps and funnel traps. We combine this with Indigenous scientific methods that involved searching for animals in the landscape, following tracks, referencing stories, using cultural knowledge, and looking at dreaming sites and places named after animals and plants, all of which indicate a known location of species encoded in language and song in southeast Arnhem Land,’ she explains. This has led to the identification of new populations of threatened species, and Emilie‘s team is in the process of documenting two new species. ‘The flora and fauna of southeast Arnhem Land has been poorly known to western science. For example, there are no emus scientifically recorded in the area, but we know they are there so this project has been about filling gaps.’ The work also led to the first ever inclusion of Indigenous knowledge in the Atlas of Living Australia (see Chapter 10: Visualising Australian life in an atlas). ‘The Atlas of Living Australia’s database has been instrumental to our recording of species sightings,’ says Emilie. ‘We now have a collection of species profiles in 10 different languages – including eight Indigenous languages, common English, and scientific names.’ She says that the cultural element is equally as important as the science. ‘Despite Arnhem Land being declared an Aboriginal Reserve in 1931, in some places there has been just as much cultural knowledge and language lost here as in southern Australia – the impacts of colonialism have reached every corner of the country. So, the work has been about using biodiversity conservation as a vehicle to maintain the transmission of traditional knowledge to young people. We’ve been building understanding of animals that used to be common and culturally important such as big goannas that haven’t been seen for at least the past 20 years – animals that are people’s totems and an important part of their relationship with the land. The work is also improving local understanding of how weeds, feral animals, fire, and climate change are damaging Australian biodiversity.’ She says that the resulting social empowerment is also very important. ‘By elevating Indigenous knowledge to be alongside western science in conservation and land management, Aboriginal people, especially young people, are regaining pride in their language and old people’s knowledge.’ Long-term investment in building relationships is important, she explains. ‘We need long-term funding for this sort of work, because we’re dealing with big problems in remote parts of Australia.’ ‘White fellas have been here for 200 years, whereas Aboriginal people have been here for more than 60,000 years, so we need to work with Aboriginal people to understand how the environment has changed over a very long time.’ ‘It takes a long time to bring all this information together and build long- term relationships and commitment. This is going to be a lifetime of work for many people, as we’re only just scratching the surface so far. But if we can establish respectful relationships, and can share knowledge, we can hopefully save some of the endangered animals and languages.’ Credit: Central Land Council Credit: Emilie Ens ‘Physical infrastructure is necessary, but more important to our work is the social infrastructure – the people and the networks.’ 34 Chapter 3 Indigenous knowledge 35Chapter 3 Indigenous knowledge
  20. 20.   Traditional knowledge and contemporary science collaboration in the western woodlands Collaboration involving traditional knowledge and contemporary science has identified many new species, documented culturally important plants, and will contribute to managing internationally significant woodlands in Western Australia. Dr Stephen van Leeuwen, Assistant Director of Science at the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, has spent time training rangers from the Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area on how to set up monitoring plots, sample soils, and collect genomic samples. ‘We did biological survey work in the Little Sandy desert, working with the Birriliburu men’s and women’s ranger teams,’ says Stephen. ‘We conducted surveys of plants in the area, and saw that as an opportunity to provide training to young rangers on how to set up plots and monitoring sites to national standards,’ says Stephen. ‘It was the first time some of the young rangers got to set up a plot and practise collection techniques, so this was a new experience for them.’ The Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area is 6.6 million hectares – almost as big as Tasmania. It covers the Little Sandy Desert, Gibson Desert and the Gascoyne, and houses many nationally important ecosystems and threatened species. The region’s Traditional Owners, the Martu people, continue their 30,000- year connection with country with Indigenous rangers managing the natural assets. Management activities include controlling feral animals and weeds, and using traditional fire management techniques to protect biodiversity and reduce pressure on threatened species. Stephen says the opportunity to share knowledge and compare ways to monitor and manage the land has been extremely rewarding, and he and colleagues learned a lot about the local culture and knowledge of country. ‘Setting up the plot was a man’s job in Indigenous culture, while sampling plants was women’s business,’ he says. ‘As people collected samples, elders would identify what the species were, which they knew from the look of the trees and what they had been taught by their elders. One example of their extensive knowledge was when a women’s ranger team member told us how many varieties of mulga would be present at a monitoring site, even before we’d started sampling. We counted, and it turns out she was spot on.’ ‘The local community saw things that botanists saw from a different perspective. The two methods worked together to confirm the taxonomy of plants, and that information was then captured for science. For example, the women’s ranger team, with the help of ecologists from Bush Heritage Australia, recorded Aboriginal names of the plants, and their ethno-botanic use, which is building up a dataset of bush tucker and medicine plants for the elders to pass on to the younger generation. That was a good additional thing to get out of the activity.’ Stephen says there was a real knowledge exchange. Credit: Suzanne Long Credit: Emilie Ens 37Chapter 3 Indigenous knowledge36 Chapter 3 Indigenous knowledge
  21. 21.   ‘The local community would identify what was a medicine plant, a cultural plant, bush tucker, how it was used for this or that. It was two- way learning, although I think the scientists learned more from the local community than they did from us.’ Monitoring the largest woodland in the world Sampling also took place at TERN’s Great Western Woodlands SuperSite, managed by Suzanne Prober from CSIRO. Opened in 2013, the SuperSite is at Credo Station, a former pastoral property in Western Australia’s Goldfields region, near Kalgoorlie. The site is in the internationally significant Great Western Woodlands region, which covers 16 million hectares in southwest Western Australia. It is the largest intact temperate (or ‘Mediterranean’) woodland in the world. ‘The SuperSite is along TERN’s South West Australian Transitional Transect, or SWATT, which extends more than 1,200 kilometres from Walpole on the south coast of Western Australia, through to the SuperSite at Credo, and out to Matuwa in the Little Sandy Desert,’ says Stephen. ‘It was set up to look at continental scale landscape gradients, such as how changes in rainfall and temperature, in soils, and land management practices affect the distribution and patterning of biodiversity.’ The transect crosses eight bioregions and various land uses, from tall eucalypt forests on the south coast, through agricultural land with fragmented headlands and woodlands, and across rangelands used for pastoralism and mining. ‘The transect crosses many different gradients and ecological boundaries that influence species distributions. Little is known about much of the species-rich country in the middle of the SWATT, in particular the sandplain heaths,’ says Stephen. Thousands of plant samples along the SWATT have been collected, sorted and identified. Researchers have identified a total of 784 plant species, 24 of which have conservation significance. ‘We also found some taxa that are new to science. We collected lots of species that are rare or poorly known, which has now resulted in changes to their conservation status,’ says Stephen. All the data are openly accessible via the TERN Data Discovery Portal. Researchers used biodiversity data collected from 160 ecosystem- monitoring plots along the SWATT to reveal that the vegetation of southern Western Australia’s sandplains is not only very diverse but also highly variable between locations. Species change so quickly between locations along the transect that sites less than 10 kilometres apart have almost completely different plant communities. Variations in soil and climate only partly explain the remarkably diverse sandplain ecosystems. ‘We found that each sandplain has its own distinct character, and within each sandplain plant species overturn quickly,’ says Stephen. ‘For management purposes, we wanted to understand if one plot represents others, or if each is unique, or if there are aspects within each plot that are different from other parts of the same plot.’ Stephen says TERN’s observations help monitor how different land- management practices may affect the Great Western Woodlands. Of particular importance are findings relating to fire management of the area’s sandplain heathlands, which support high levels of species richness and contain many significant plants. ‘To protect the woodlands, in the past the management response was to burn the sandplains – people see value in trees but not in the shrubs. But data collected by our study have indicated that these sandplains are of similar biological significance to the woodlands and consequently fire management response now takes this finding into consideration.’ ‘I hope in future to sample other plant communities along the transect, or sample other elements of the sandplains such as invertebrates, reptiles or small mammals to see if they change as much as the plants, and if such rapid changes are driven by climatic considerations or other influences.’ He says TERN provides the research infrastructure and data at the scales required to understand and manage the vast, fragile and highly variable sandplain ecosystems. ‘The transect wouldn’t have happened without TERN support, and the Indigenous engagement wouldn’t have been as successful,’ he says. ‘People would have gone out separately, with the TERN scientists doing their thing, the Birriliburu Indigenous community going out at a different time, and the Department going out at a completely different time. But by having a national program with standard protocols, and methods in place for capturing data and getting it into the public domain, everything came together.’ Members of the Birriliburu Women’s Ranger Team record the traditional names of plants during vegetation sampling at Katjarra. (Photo courtesy of Emma Drake, Central Desert Native Title Services) A map of the Three Parks region. Credit: Suzanne Prober 38 Chapter 3 Indigenous knowledge 39Chapter 3 Indigenous knowledge
  22. 22.   Firing up the next generation of Indigenous researchers Learning about science through the example of Indigenous ecological knowledge can lead to a more diverse workforce, with students enjoying science and gaining an appreciation of Indigenous Australian history. ‘Our program uses non-secret, non-sacred, and openly publishable knowledge,’ says Jesse King, Senior Coordinator of CSIRO Education and Outreach’s Indigenous STEM Education Project. ‘We use examples of traditional knowledge to talk to students from K to 12 about how the scientific inquiry process is a part of human nature and problem solving.’ ‘For example, all Indigenous groups around Australia have knowledge of fire starting,’ he says. ‘This was developed many thousands of years ago, with people making use of the best available materials. Communities in different areas have a fire-starting method that depends on plant availability, because you need a particular combination of plants to efficiently start a fire. In Australia there are more than 18,000 different plant species. The choice of materials isn’t just pot luck. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples have knowledge about the entire ecosystem. They solve problems using thousands and thousands of years of observations, reflections on data, and planning and predicting methodologies. They then refine the knowledge, and communicate it through story, songlines and cultural activities.’ He says the program, run in over 70 schools throughout four states, helps both Indigenous and non- Indigenous students understand the connection between knowledge held by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples and a range of sciences. ‘It’s just as important for non-Indigenous students to see how traditional knowledge connects with science, as it is part of Australia’s history. Up until now students have learned about science, and about science history, with examples of Eurocentric scientists such as Galileo and Magellan – but we highlight science as a human construct, not just a western construct.’ Jesse is a Waanyi descendant with ties to the Mt Isa and Central Queensland regions, although he explains that his perspective is as an Indigenous educator, with a passion for education and the opportunities it provides for everyone involved, and that he is not representing all Indigenous people or the full diversity of Aboriginal Australia. The program is run by CSIRO with $28 million over five years from the BHP Billiton Foundation. ‘These projects aren’t cheap, so if we want to see more Indigenous people with a research capacity, we need to invest wisely in our education programs and teacher training, and take a whole, systemic approach to incorporate Indigenous knowledge across all levels, to effect change. Without a concerted effort with proven track records, change will be too slow, and we can’t afford to be slow as we move to a technology- based economy. If people are being excluded from science, technology, education and maths, they’ll become more marginalised.’ Credit: Emilie Ens ‘It’s just as important for non-Indigenous students to see how traditional knowledge connects with science, as it is part of Australia’s history. Up until now students have learned about science, and about science history, with examples of Eurocentric scientists such as Galileo and Magellan.’ 40 Chapter 3 Indigenous knowledge 41Chapter 3 Indigenous knowledge
  23. 23.   Combining traditional knowledge with western science The integration of Indigenous knowledge with western science has been happening since Europeans arrived, says Jesse. ‘There were observations in Joseph Banks’ diary of the Guugu Yimithirr people near Cooktown, processing cycad nuts to detoxify them. If you eat the nuts without this process, it’s a poison. Banks noted that it killed pigs on the Endeavour and made men sick. But this was viewed through a colonial lens, and these European observations of traditional practices were not connected with scientific knowledge.’ Jesse gives another example of the antiseptic properties of tea tree. ‘Tea tree oil is 10 times stronger than antiseptics being used by Europeans and colonists in the 18th century. Comments were recorded at the time that Aboriginal people were surviving wounds that would kill European people who didn’t have that understanding and were using a less effective antiseptic.’ He says if we now look back at these historical interactions but through a modern lens and our current understanding of science, we can see that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have had scientific knowledge in Australia for many thousands of years. ‘It’s been only relatively recently that people have understood bacteria, enzymes, germ theory and so on. But you can explore this on a longer time scale to see how it is understood by Aboriginal people. You can look at the complex nature of detoxification of food groups that contain toxins, and use this understanding to help primary students right through to tertiary level explore detoxification processes.’ Jesse says the program is not just about the science understanding; it has links across the science curriculum. ‘We can ask questions about the ethics of using Indigenous knowledge, about bio-piracy and the intellectual property of Aboriginal peoples. It was the Bundjalung people in northern NSW who first used the oil from Melaleuca or tea tree medicinally, but there’s never been recognition of the Bundjalung people’s cultural or intellectual property, even though they’ve used it for thousands of years. Students need to ask these questions and learn about this, otherwise modern germ theory silences our first Australians’ knowledge.’ Jesse can give many other examples of science explained through traditional knowledge, from medicines to the ecosystem, to the chemistry of how the compounds in poisons or medicines react with the human body. ‘Indigenous people know certain plants are medicinal, for example helping if you had a stomach ache. But now you can break down this knowledge using our current understanding of science, and inspire the next generation to make new discoveries. We are constantly describing new plants all over the world, so there’s a lot of opportunity still out there to discover.’ Jesse explains the University of Queensland’s recent work on the nanotechnology of spinifex resin is a case in point. ‘The resin from spinifex can be used as a renewable and biodegradable replacement for latex and Kevlar,’ he says. ‘If this takes off, imagine the impact on remote communities who manage a sea of spinifex. We can use examples like this to say to kids, “If you’re interested in this technology, it can take you to a career in chemistry”. We can take their interest in Indigenous culture and knowledge, link it to the school curriculum, demonstrate links to the economy, and build capacity to do science and enjoy it.’ He says as a result of the Indigenous education program, teachers have noted that Indigenous and non- Indigenous students are thinking more creatively, engaging with science and inquiring more. ‘By bringing the traditional lens and the western lens together, hand in hand, we can go further, not just have one or the other. And it gives Indigenous students a sense of pride to see how much traditional knowledge is still used today.’ He says the ultimate objective is to have a more diverse workforce, with more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in careers in science and other STEM areas. ‘We want to get more Indigenous people into researching at a PhD level and on to a research career, so we need more Indigenous people doing science at school. We’re setting up students to be able to make links between Indigenous knowledge and science, which they’ll carry with them when they’re doing research and using science infrastructure as scientists.’ Credit: Allan Burbidge Credit: Central Land Council ‘By bringing the traditional lens and the western lens together, hand in hand, we can go further, not just have one or the other. And it gives Indigenous students a sense of pride to see how much traditional knowledge is still used today.’ 42 Chapter 3 Indigenous knowledge 43Chapter 3 Indigenous knowledge
  24. 24. 4544 chapter4 EXTREME EVENTS ‘Bushfires have been part of the Australian landscape for a long time, but with climate change they are getting more severe and frequent.’ Dr Marta Yebra Australian National University Water and Landscape Group A warming world is causing more extreme weather events Credit: Eva Van Gorsel Credit: Suzanne Long