Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTERN)

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The LTERN facility integrates key established plot networks across Australia to tackle critical questions associated with the impacts of disturbance on Australian ecosystems. In a collaborative arrangement, LTERN brings together some of Australia’s leading ecologists, from seven separate institutions. Formally established in 2012 and administered by the LTERN facility at The Australian National University, LTERN draws a range of existing long-term ecological monitoring programs together to establish a new coordinated and collaborative approach.

LTERN encapsulates a depth of data and breadth of collaboration rarely undertaken in Australian ecological science.

LTERN includes 12 plot networks across Australia that have been actively monitored for several years and in some cases decades (see map below). These plot networks span a number of ecosystems including tropical rainforests and savannas, tall eucalypt forests, mallee woodlands and shrublands, alpine regions, and deserts. The networks also cover multiple land tenures and land uses including plantation forestry, conservation, restoration, tourism and agriculture.

Lachie McBurney measures the diameter of old growth Mountain Ash in the Victorian Tall Eucalypt Forest plot network
Lachie McBurney measures the diameter of old growth Mountain Ash in the Victorian Tall Eucalypt Forest plot network
A storm drops rain on the sand dunes of the Simpson Desert. Rain stimulates germination of ephemeral plants, such as the Euphorbia's in the bottom right.
A storm drops rain on the sand dunes of the Simpson Desert. Rain stimulates germination of ephemeral plants, such as the Euphorbia's in the bottom right














A question-driven research design underpins each of the plot networks.

LTERN is designed to monitor biodiversity and better understand disturbance regimes associated with fire, logging, livestock grazing, climate change and invasive species. Examples of specific research questions being addressed at some of these plot networks include:

  • How does wildfire and logging alter vegetation condition and, in turn, the response of biodiversity?
  • What is the relationship between vegetation and carbon biomass?
  • What are the effects of management-imposed fire regimes on vegetation and associated biomass dynamics?
  • How is the invasion and expansion of non-native and native biota affecting treeless alpine ecosystems?
  • How do survivorship and fecundity of different plant species vary with time since fire?

The data collected at each plot network can vary but the range of information collected includes vegetation, soils, invertebrates, birds, reptiles, arboreal marsupials, genetics, phenology, and more.


LTERN themes table and map

LTERN will provide important scientific knowledge and data to allow Australians to better understand and interpret environmental change.  This, in turn, will inform better management of Australia’s natural resources. To a degree this is already happening for LTERN. For example, in the Booderee National Park Plot Network at Jervis Bay a productive science-management relationship is in place which has seen National Park management adopt on the ground activities as a result of emerging research on the impacts of fire on biodiversity, and control of the invasive Bitou Bush.

From plots across LTERN, new data and historic metadata are being collected and made available through the LTERN Data Portal. Descriptions of each plot network are also available in the facility brochure on this website, and interactive maps of the plots are available through the TERN Data Discovery Portal.


Further information and LTERN publications to download

Biodiversity and Environmental Change: Monitoring, Challenges and Direction

Biodiversity and Environmental Change cover


A landmark data gathering and book writing project was undertaken from late 2011 until late 2013 involving 84 contributing environmental professionals (primarily ecological scientists). The result was released by CSIRO Publishing on 20 January 2014.

The book, Biodiversity and Environmental Change, demonstrates the value of long-term ecological research in Australia for monitoring environmental change and biodiversity. Long-term ecological data are critical for informing trends in biodiversity and environmental change. Authors in this book have maintained monitoring sites, often for one or more decades, in an array of different ecosystems across the Australian continent – ranging from tropical rainforests, wet eucalypt forests and alpine regions through to rangelands and deserts. This book highlights some of the temporal changes in the environment that have occurred in the various systems. Many important trends and changes are documented and they often provide new insights that were previously poorly understood or unknown. This information is precisely the data so desperately needed to better quantify temporal trajectories in the Australian environment.

By presenting trend patterns (and often also the associated data) the authors aim to catalyse governments and other organisations to better recognise the importance of long-term data collection and monitoring as a fundamental part of ecologically driven and cost-effective management of the environment and biodiversity.

This book describes changes in a range of Australian ecosystems that have been subject to detailed long-term research. The overarching purpose of these long-term studies has been to document the changes, identify the drivers of change and provide the evidence and knowledge needed to inform better natural resource management in Australia.

Some of the data packages in this book can be downladed via the LTERN Data Portal. A synopsis of these packages can be found published soon.

View and purchase via CSIRO Publishing



Policy Handbook: Learning from long-term research to better manage biodiversity in Australia

Policy Handbook


This handbook describes the key findings and messages from each of the chapters of the book, Biodiversity and Environmental Change. This booklet to provide summary information for policy makers and the general public.


The booklet contains overview information on two ecosystems not mentioned in the LTERN Brochure, these are the: Chenopod and Acacia Shrublands, and Tussock Grassland. There is also a simplified explanation of concepts in ecology, discussion on the value of long-term research, a list of known and common threats to Australian biodiversity and discussion on the cultural barriers to effective environmental management in Australia.








A guide to the Long Term Ecological Research Network, Australia

LTERN Brochure




To learn more about the LTERN Facility you can visit our website and download our brochure here. The publications catalogue provides a list of all research and publications associated with the 12 LTERN Plot Networks.


Download the LTERN Brochure (4.33MB)









Making ecological monitoring successful: Insights and lessons from the Long Term Ecological Research Network

Insights Booklet




This booklet draws together the collective insights of the research leaders of the 12 LTERN Plot Networks, along with other professionals associated with the network. It provides discussion of process of the distinct characteristics of long-term research.


The lessons and insights shared in the booklet will be useful for anyone involved in supporting, designing, undertaking, or using the outputs of long-term research, and the authors hope that this enables the development of more effective and influential long-term ecological projects in Australia.

Download the Insights Booklet (2.7MB)







The Long Term Ecological Research Network, Australia: Objectives, design and methods

LTERN Technical Manual




The Long Term Ecological Research Network Australia describes LTERN’s conceptual design, the research underpinning the network, the objectives of the LTERN Facility, the research-questions being examined, and the field protocols being employed.


The LTERN Technical Manual will be available for download here soon.









LTERN Publications Catalogue

The LTERN Publications Catalogue is a list of publications relating to the Long Term Ecological Research Network.

Download the LTERN Publications Catalogue (2MB) (updated June 2014)




Dr. Emma Burns is LTERN’s exeutive director

Meet her and the LTERN facility staff here.


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P: +61 7 3346 7021
TERN is supported by the Australian Government through the National
Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy(NCRIS).