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North Australian Tropical Transect



Savannas, featuring an open tree canopy and dense grass layer, are the dominant ecosystems of northern Australia. Pastoralism is the most extensive land-use, but the main income earners are mining and tourism.  Aboriginal owners are major stakeholders, both in terms of population and land title.  In contrast to those overseas, Australia's savannas are little-modified by human activity, and harbour their full complement of biological diversity.  In the face of increasing pressure to develop northern Australia, the challenge is to ensure that these ecosystems remain healthy and biological diversity is conserved for future generations. 

Research Infrastructure

The North Australian Tropical Transect (NATT) in the Northern Territory was established as part of a global network of sub continental-scale transects that traverse the world's major biomes, under the auspices of the United Nation's International Geosphere-Biosphere Program. The NATT uses the rainfall gradient that runs from the northern coast near Darwin (1700 mm mean annual rainfall) south to the fringe of the arid zone (500 mm). It covers a range of savanna ecosystem types, from monsoonal tall-grass systems with high tree cover near the coast, to dry spinifex hummock grasslands with low tree cover in the south.  The NATT provides a framework for monitoring and modelling the dynamics of Australia’s tropical savannas in relation to variation in soils and disturbance, primarily fire and grazing. The NATT also provides a space-for-time framework for identifying and monitoring ecosystem transitions in the context of climate change.


General location

North coast near Darwin to the fringe of the arid zone in the south in the Northern Territory

Research infrastructure themes

Ecosystem turnover along rainfall and soil gradient;

Predictive understanding of tree and carbon dynamics in relation to environmental stress and disturbance;

Predict biodiversity responses to climate change and disturbance, using ants as a focal taxon.

Year Established


Transect Length

1000 km

No. of plots


Rainfall Gradient (mean annual)

1700 mm on the northern coast to 500 mm on the fringe of the arid zone.

Data type

Soils; vegetation composition & structure; ant richness & composition; plant & ant vouchers; leaf & ant genetic material

Temporal revisit (ideal)

Ant surveys - 3 to 5 years

Vegetation and soil surveys - 5 years

TERN Facilities on the NATT

AusPlots; Australian Supersite Network; Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTERN); OzFlux; AusCover



  • Charles Darwin University, NT, Australia
  • Max Planck Institute, Germany
  • University of Massachusetts, USA

Transect leader

Prof Alan Andersen



Papers and reports 

Australian Transect Network data are published in the TERN AEKOS Portal where it is freely available to the research community:

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