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.
Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTERN)
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.
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.
Dr. Emma Burns
- 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.
DOWNLOAD THE LTERN PUBLICATIONS CATALOGUE (2MB) (updated June 2013)
Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and the Super Science Initiative.