Australian ecosystems: maximising the benefits (and minimising the risks) for the nation

TERN’s submission to the National Research Infrastructure Capability Issues Paper on Australia’s future research infrastructure priorities


Globally, the benefits from ecosystem services have been valued at $125 trillion per year (compared to a global GDP of $75 trillion). Ecosystem services are arguably the most valuable component of the Australian economy as a whole, contributing at least as much and maybe more than manufacturing and service industries.

But we can no longer take this wealth for granted. The coming decade – and the century to come – will be a time of unprecedented rate of change and challenges for Australia’s diverse terrestrial ecosystems and the services they provide to our industries and communities.

How can we help our farmers, captains of industry and entrepreneurs navigate this uncharted territory? To ensure we maximise benefits, take advantage of new opportunities, and minimise risks to the nation, Australia needs nationally coordinated research infrastructure that enables ongoing ecosystem monitoring, increases scientific understanding of ecosystem processes, forecasts change and informs adaptation and mitigation options.

The foundations for much of this multidisciplinary integrated research infrastructure and synthesis capacity have already been built through previous NCRIS investment in TERN. The long-term ecosystem data streams this infrastructure is delivering are of similar fundamental importance in terms of benchmarking Australian ecosystem change as Cape Grim’s observations are for benchmarking changes in the global atmosphere.

As in the case of Cape Grim, Australia can’t afford interruptions in the data streams – loss of these ecosystem benchmarks would mean we would be flying blind into the most disrupted decades humans have ever experienced.

The required capacity for national coordination across ecosystems, jurisdictions and scientific disciplines has also emerged through previous NCRIS investment in TERN.

For example, TERN’s Roadmap submission has been informed by an extensive stakeholder consultation process involving universities (ANU, UTas, UAdelaide, UQ, UWA, JCU, CDU, UniMelb, Monash, USyd, UWS, Macquarie, UniSA, Deakin), state government representatives (SA, NSW, Qld, WA, Tas), local governments, a range of NCRIS facilities (Atlas of Living Australia, Bioplatforms Australia, NeCTAR, the Australian National Data Service, Integrated Marine Observation System and the Biodiversity and Climate Change Virtual Laboratory), Australian government agencies (Department of Environment, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Department of Innovation), other leading research agencies particularly CSIRO, consultants in the natural resource management sector, international partners with TERN (European Union, USA, UK, South Africa, Japan, China and Mexico) and others.

Published in TERN newsletter September 2016

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