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Relinking landscapes - assessing ecological transformations using VAST-2


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Over the last 20 years in Australia the number and popularity of landscape linkage projects have increased. Arguably these landscape connectivity initiatives represent a good case for social and political transformations however, there the ability to discern whether these initiatives make a contribution to biodiversity outcomes is questioned because of a lack of monitoring reporting.
This presentation proposes an accounting approach to track biodiversity outcomes using indicators of regenerative capacity, vegetation structure and species composition. This requires ecologists to engage land managers as equal partners to collect on-ground observations and/measurements

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Relinking landscapes - assessing ecological transformations using VAST-2

  1. 1. Relinking landscapes - assessing ecological transformations using VAST-2 Richard Thackway Integrating Biodiversity Outcomes with Streamlined Planning Balancing environmental concerns with reformed approval processes 26th& 27thNovember 2013, Sydney
  2. 2. Outline • • • • • • • Landscape transformation: development and connectivity Concepts and definitions VAST framework Tracking change and trend Site-based case studies Potential to account for landscape connectivity outcomes More information VAST = Vegetation Assets States and Transitions
  3. 3. Land management transforms landscapes Regulation of hydrological regime Generation of food and fibre Regulation of climate / microclimate Generation of raw materials Recycling of organic matter Creating and regulating habitats Controlling reproduction and dispersal Photographs: Alex Lee
  4. 4. Process of landscape development and reconnection Time Relictual Fragmentation <10% retained Fragmented 10-60% retained Variegated 60-90% retained Intact >90% Native Unmodified Unmodified Naturally Bare Modified Transformed Modification Non-native Replaced – Adventive, Destroyed Replaced – Managed Removed Condition classes defined using VAST
  5. 5. Process of relinking landscapes • Involves learning and adapting: – – – – Knowledge to reflect landscape function Appropriate management interventions to management history Collection of observations and measurements in landscape settings Skills and capacities of the land management partnerships
  6. 6. 14 Case studies June 2013 Showing a rapid increase in number (and popularity) over 20 years pid/6898.htm
  7. 7. Aims of linking Australia’s landscapes • to protect the integrity and resilience of ecosystems • to maintain and restore large-scale natural landscapes and ecosystem processes • to lessen the impacts of fragmentation • to increase the connectivity of habitats to provide for species movement and adaptation as climate changes; and • to build community support and involvement in conservation pid/6898.htm
  8. 8. Linking Australia’s landscapes – a review On the whole the book Linking Australia’s landscapes focuses on: • Social process: Partnerships & members • Participation: Through local & regional events and activities • Coordinated actions: Plans and planning • Financial benefits: Multipliers and agreements • MERI: counting hectares, groups, individuals & events • Assumed biodiversity gain: connectivity = function = biodiversity Summary: Grossly inadequate tracking ecological outcomes
  9. 9. Starting the process of modification and fragmentation of indigenous Australia First contact with explorers only 130 to 240 years ago Derived from Cannon Based on Cannon (1987) Readers Digest (1987) Remapped into bioregions
  10. 10. Development and change Pre 1750 Vegetation Present vegetation Source: ERIN, Department of Environment
  11. 11. ~150 years of development and change Extent of native vegetation 2004 Source: Thackway et al. 2010
  12. 12. Connectivity example - Gondwana Link Source: David Freudenberger
  13. 13. Understanding & classifying modification Photograph: Andrew Marshall Photograph: Richard Thackway
  14. 14. Understanding & classifying modification Photograph: Richard Thackway Photograph: Richard Thackway
  15. 15. Understanding & classifying modification Photograph: Richard Thackway Photograph: Richard Thackway
  16. 16. Understanding & classifying modification Photograph: Richard Thackway Photograph: Richard Thackway
  17. 17. Understanding & classifying modification Photograph: Richard Thackway Photograph: Richard Thackway
  18. 18. Understanding & classifying modification Photograph: Richard Thackway Photograph: Richard Thackway
  19. 19. Conclusions (1) • Arguably the book Linking Australia’s landscapes presents a good case for social and political transformations • Currently there is poor evidence, support, desire and capacity to track ecological change and trend = biodiversity outcomes • A consistent national system is needed • Strong partnerships described in the book offer a real opportunity for evaluating biodiversity /ecological outcomes
  20. 20. Towards an accounting approach Tracking biodiversity outcomes associated with managing landscape connectivity initiatives
  21. 21. Environmental accounting - key issues • How to analyse and report ecological evidence of management practices (modification and fragmentation)? • Which conceptual models are ecologically simple and meaningful to a wide range of key stakeholders? • Land holder willingness to report intended & inadvertent outcomes • Developing IT systems for archiving and accessing long term ecological and land management data and information • Cost • Capacity • Desire and willingness among NGOs and government partners
  22. 22. Proposed solution - compiling and scoring effects of management practices Document & score the effects of LMP on Key Performance Indicators Time LMP = Land Management Practices
  23. 23. Condition and transformation • Change in a plant community (type) due to effects of land management practices: – Structure – Composition – Regenerative capacity Vegetation condition • Resilience = the capacity of an plant community to recover to a reference state following a change/s in land management • Transformation = changes to vegetation condition over time • Condition, resilience and transformation are assessed relative to fully natural a reference state
  24. 24. A spatial/temporal framework for assessing & reporting modification - VAST Modification caused by land management 0 I II Naturally bare Residual or unmodified III Transformed Modified IV V Replaced Adventive Replaced managed VI Replaced removed Vegetation thresholds Condition states Reference for each veg type (NVIS) Native vegetation cover Transitions = trend Non-native vegetation cover Diagnostic attributes of VAST states: • Vegetation structure • Species composition • Regenerative capacity Vegetation Assets States and Transitions (VAST) framework NVIS Thackway & Lesslie (2008) Environmental Management, 42, 572-90
  25. 25. Spatial modification mapped using VAST VAST 2009 / unmodified Native / replaced Thackway & Lesslie (2008) Environmental Management, 42, 572-90 Vegetation Assets States and Transitions (VAST) framework
  26. 26. 240 years of development and change Modification of Australia’s major vegetation types
  27. 27. Spatial modification and fragmentation, Bogan Gate, NSW (2005) Site-based condition classes (VAST) Landscape Alteration Levels (LAL)
  28. 28. Rationale for tracking the effects of land management practices over time At the land parcel level the impetus for connectivity initiatives are driven by on-ground actions aimed at: • • • • • • Modifying Removing and replacing Enhancing Restoring Maintaining Improving Biodiversity outcomes can be practically tracked and reported using: • Key Result Areas and • Key Performance Indicators
  29. 29. VAST classes Tracking effects of land management Reference Change in vegetation indicator or index Anthropogenic change Net benefit Relaxation Occupation 1850 1875 1900 1925 Time 1950 1975 2000 2025 Connectivity initiative
  30. 30. Changing management practices over time Regenerative capacity/ function Key Result Areas (KRAs) 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. Soil hydrological status Soil physical status Soil chemical status Soil biological status Fire regime Reproductive potential Overstorey structure Understorey structure Overstorey composition Understorey composition Soil Vegetation Vegetation structure & Species composition Source: Thackway 2012
  31. 31. Key Result Areas (10) Fire regime Key Performance Indicators (22) 1. Area /size of fire foot prints 2. Interval between fire starts Soil hydrology 3. Plant available water holding capacity 4. Ground water dynamics Soil physical state 5. Effective rooting depth of the soil profile 6. Bulk density of the soil through changes to soil structure or soil removal Soil nutrient state 7. Nutrient stress – rundown (deficiency) relative to reference soil fertility 8. Nutrient stress – excess (toxicity) relative to reference soil fertility Soil biological state 9. Organisms responsible for maintaining soil porosity and nutrient recycling 10. Surface organic matter, soil crusts Reproductive potential 11. Reproductive potential of overstorey structuring species 12. Reproductive potential of understorey structuring species Overstorey structure 13. Overstorey top height (mean) of the plant community 14. Overstorey foliage projective cover (mean) of the plant community 15. Overstorey structural diversity (i.e. a diversity of age classes) of the stand Understorey structure 16. Understorey top height (mean) of the plant community 17. Understorey ground cover (mean) of the plant community Overstorey composition 18. Understorey structural diversity (i.e. a diversity of age classes) of the plant 19. Densities of overstorey species functional groups 20. Relative number of overstorey species (richness) of indigenous :exotic spp Understorey composition 21. Densities of understorey species functional groups 22. Relative number of understorey species (richness) of indigenous :exotic spp Source: Thackway 2012
  32. 32. L4 L3 3 Level 1 Vegetation Status Scores 10 22 Condition Components L2 Key Result Areas VAST-2 hierarchy 1 Regenerative Capacity (55%) Fire Soil (2) Structure (2) Vegetation Structure (27%) Reprod potent Overstorey (3) (2) Nutrients Biology (2) (2) Species Composition (18%) Understorey (3) Overstorey (2) Understorey (2) Hydrology (2) Key Performance Indicators Source: Thackway 2012
  33. 33. General process for tracking changes VAST-2 system Transformation site Reference state/sites Step 1a Use a checklist of 22 indicators to compile changes in LU & LMP* and plant community responses over time Step 1b Evaluate the influence of climate, soil and landform on the historical record Step 3a Literature review to determine the baseline conditions for 22 indicators Step 2 Step 4 Document responses of 22 indicators over time Document the reference states for 22 indicators Step 3b Evaluate the influence of climate, soil and landform for the reference site Step 3c Step 1c Compile indicator data for 22 indicators for reference site Evaluate impacts on the plant community over time Step 5 Score all 22 indicators for ‘transformation site’ relative to the ‘reference site’. 0 = major change; 1 = no change Step 6 Derive weighted indices for the three components for the ‘transformation site’ i.e. regenerative capacity (58%), vegetation structure (27%) and species composition (18%) by adding predefined indicators Step 7 Source: Thackway 2013 Add the indices for the three components to generate total transformation index for the ‘transformation site’ for each year of the historical record . Validate using Expert Knowledge * LU Land use LMP Land management practices
  34. 34. Understanding ecosystem dynamics and biodiversity outcomes • In managing ecosystems rainfall is assumed to be the main driver of ecosystem dynamics • Land managers must have a working knowledge of rainfall interactions with Key Result Areas & Key performance indicators • Generally rudimentary understanding of these interactions among land managers – but knowledge is improving
  35. 35. Site-based case studies
  36. 36. Case study 1 • Region: Credo Station, Great Western Woodlands (GWW), WA • Reference state: Salmon Gum woodland overstorey , saltbush & bluebush understorey and ground layer More info:
  37. 37. Salmon Gum reference state Photograph: Harry Recher
  38. 38. Source: Thackway 2013
  39. 39. Case study 2 Region: Taroom Shire, Brigalow Belt South, Qld Reference state: Brigalow woodland overstorey , mixed open shrubland understorey , grassy and forb ground layer More info:
  40. 40. Brigalow woodland reference state Photograph: Griffith University
  41. 41. VAST classes Wanaringa, Taroom Shire, Qld Source:
  42. 42. Tracking and reporting at a landscape level
  43. 43. Tracking Burnt Area and Approximate Day of Burn Key Performance Indicators 1 & 2
  44. 44. Tracking Foliage Projective Cover Key Performance Indicator 14 100 FPC 80 60 40 20 0 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 Year Source: Tim Danaher 2010
  45. 45. Overstorey height, cover & structural types Key Performance Indicators 13, 14 & 15 Polygons based on Landsat FPC (persistent green) and Allos radar backscatter at 25m Vertical structure from IceSat . Mantuan Downs, Qld Source: Peter Scarth
  46. 46. Tracking ground cover changes Key Performance Indicator 17 Source: Tim Danaher
  47. 47. What about info for the other indicators? • Most info for these indicators are not currently dynamic e.g. – Most regenerative capacity indicators will require models rather than remote sensing – Most species composition indicators will require expert elicitation modeling of site data
  48. 48. What might a report card for biodiversity outcomes look like?
  49. 49. Landscape linkage report card • Focus on transformation of plant communities as the reporting unit for national and regional levels • Use graphs of change and trend in vegetation status and condition components i.e. regen capacity, veg structure and species composition • Use maps showing landscape level examples of connectivity gains over time i.e. less modification and less fragmentation • Use case studies of mismatches between expected vs observed outcomes. Reasons: wildfire, drought, weeds, feral animals • Use examples of species-based benefits of changes and trends in condition in linked landscapes
  50. 50. Progress toward a desired target condition state 2008 VAST classes 100 Unmodified/ Residual Reference 80 Modified 60 Target Transformed 40 Replaced Adventive 20 Baseline Replaced managed Replaced removed 0 1800 1825 1850 1900 1925 1950 1975 2000 2025 years Current land management: Continuous grazing of a mixed native-exotic grassland Proposed land management change: Time & cell-based grazing on reconstructed grassy woodland
  51. 51. Case study: decreased modification and decreased fragmentation VAST classes Modified Transformed - A Transformed - B Transformed - C Removed – managed Removed - replaced Example: 250 hectare ‘Talaheni’, Murrumbateman, NSW
  52. 52. Reporting trends Example: 250 hectare ‘Talaheni’, Murrumbateman, NSW VAST classes Modified Transformed - A Transformed - B Transformed - C Removed – managed Removed - replaced
  53. 53. Conclusions (2) • Tracking activities and effects of land managers offers a practical accounting tool for evaluating biodiversity outcomes • Up-scaling to the landscape scale is increasingly feasible with ecological modelling and time series remote sensing • Standardised national Key Result Areas and Key Performance Indicators have value in developing a report card • As a tool, VAST helps in ‘Telling the story’ of biodiversity outcomes attributable to landscape connectivity initiatives
  54. 54. More information Acknowledgements • University of Queensland, Department of Geography Planning and Environmental Management for ongoing research support • Many public and private land managers, land management agencies, consultants and researchers have provided data and information