Ecologically appropriate and economically viable: how long-term research is transforming fire management in the Top End

The collaborative work of scientists, park rangers, and Aboriginal custodians is leading to more environmentally sustainable fire management in the Northern Territory and helping us understand the benefits of savanna burning carbon emission abatement projects.


Long-term research infrastructure facilitates groundbreaking rainforest study

Researchers using TERN's national long-term research infrastructure have, for the first time, demonstrated scientists' long-held suspicions that tropical forest diversity is driven by early life-cycle plant development.


New research predicts collapse of mountain ash ecosystem

A recent study by researchers utilising decades of scientific monitoring from TERN’s Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTERN) has discovered that the mountain ash forests of Victoria’s highlands are at very high risk of collapse within half a century, driven by the effects of clearfell logging and bushfires.

Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTERN)


On this page:



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.   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.

Map showing the locations of LTERN's plot networks throughout Australia.

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.


LTERN publications to download


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

Released September 2014

This booklet draws together the collective insights of the research leaders of the 12 plot networks within the LTERN, along with other professionals associated with the network. It adds to TERN's suite of 'soft' infrastructure, providing an invaluable look into the process of long-term research and the distinct characteristics of this work.

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.




LTERN Brochure







Book release

Biodiversity and Environmental Change

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.


View and purchase via CSIRO Publishing

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.


Download the book's Policy Handbook (4MB)

This handbook describes the key findings and messages from long-term ecological research for policy makers and the general public.



LTERN Publications catalogue





Dr. Emma Burns

Executive Director, LTERN
Ph: (02) 6125 1737

Meet the LTERN facility staff here.


More links

  • Of mice and dogs.  A new study suggests that there is a cheaper and easier way for landowners to manage introduced foxes and cats and control their costly impacts on rangeland grazing operations.
  • People using TERN: Ben Derrick. Falls Creek Alpine Resort’s natural resources manager is using TERN research to balance the needs of business, safety and the environment.
  • Sounds of a wild night in the forest. Listen closely to hear the sounds of the evening shift change in the Mountain Ash Forests of Victoria in this episode of ABC Radio National's Off Track featuring LTERN's David Lindenmayer.
  • Education is a two-way conversation. TERN-associated scientists working on long-term projects in remote parts of the country form a strong connection with local communities, which is at least as educational for the scientists as it is for the locals.
  • What has a hot, dry country like Australia got to offer to the International Tundra Experiment? Quite a lot, according to Professor Ary Hoffmann, who leads the Alpine Plots component of TERN's Long-Term Ecological Research Network.
  • North-east Victoria's diversity of interconnected ecosystems supports a similarly diverse range of industries including tourism, forestry and agribusiness. Ecosystem science – and the research infrastructure provided locally through TERN – is making considerable contributions to the sustainability of these industries in the region.
  • By improving understanding of the complex interactions within mallee ecosystems, Prof David Keith's work in the Mallee Plot Network is helping to inform conservation strategies.
  • Long-term observations, such as those collected by Professor Chris Dickman and Professor Glenda Wardle over decades at the Desert Ecology Plot Networkin the Simpson Desert, are providing important insights into the responses of species to environmental extremes. Click to read more.
  • Long-term monitoring data from LTERN's Alpine plots have not only increased our understanding of impacts such as fire and grazing, but also informed land-management decisions by local, state and federal government agencies and by private enterprise. Read more here.
  • LTERN's Three Parks Savannah Fire-Effects plot network works closely with the Litchfield Supersite to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the role of fire in Australia's northern savannahs. Click here to read more.
  • Increasing our understanding of carbon stocks and dynamics in ecosystems requires long-term and very detailed information on vegetation structure, composition, decay and other attributes of ecosystems. Such information can only be obtained by repeatedly measuring established plots over long periods of time - and that's where LTERN comes in.

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