Australia’s ecosystem sample library

Australia’s national terrestrial ecosystems sample library has moved. Tens of thousands of vegetation and soil samples collected by TERN’s ecosystem observation are now housed at Waite and openly available for researchers to use.  Find out what’s available and how you can use the library to advance your research.


TERN is pleased to announce that Australia’s national terrestrial ecosystems sample library has moved to the University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus. Tens of thousands of soil samples, soil metagenomic samples, plant voucher specimens, and plant genetic material collected from TERN’s national network of over 580 ecosystem surveillance sites are now openly available to interested researchers.

Waite Research Precinct is home to some of Australia’s oldest and most renowned science research institutions and basing TERN’s sample library there brings significant strategic advantages for the nation’s scientists, says TERN’s Associate Professor Ben Sparrow.

“Waite is the largest concentration of agricultural research and teaching expertise in the Southern Hemisphere and the move here opens new and exciting doors for our data to be used in innovative new ways,” says Ben.

“CSIRO, SARDI [South Australian Research and Development Institute], the ARC Centre of Excellence for Plant Energy Biology, and the APPF [Australian Plant Phenomics Facility] are just some of the organisations based at Waite that we’re either already collaborating with or have had preliminary discussions with regarding the use of TERN infrastructure, data and sample collections.”

“For example, earlier this week we had some very positive discussions with fellow NCRIS facility the APPF, who were very keen to find out more about the data TERN collects using drones and see if they can be used in their plant phenomic studies.”

TERN’s sample collection empowers Australian science

Future applications aside, TERN’s extensive sample collection is already empowering researchers across Australia as they take advantage of this invaluable resource to enable new science.

Dr Mark Farrell, a research scientist in CSIRO’s Waite based Agriculture and Food Business Unit and leader of the Soil Biogeochemistry Team, is using TERN soil samples and vegetation data to help investigate how changes in aridity and plant communities as a result of climate change are expected to impact on soil nutrient cycles and microorganisms.

“Easy access to an established bioclimatic transect combined with the availability of vegetation data from almost 50 sites were the deciding factors in basing my research along TERN’s TREND transect,” says Mark, a CSIRO Julius Career Award recipient. “These resources meant that I wasn’t starting from scratch and could quickly progress my work.”

Dr Francesca McInerney, an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow at the University of Adelaide, whose honours and PhD students have used the TERN samples, is similarly impressed by the sample collections available.

“This is an amazing resource provided by TERN. I only wish we had similarly available and well-documented collections in the United States!”

Dr Ning Dong, a postdoctoral research assistant at the UK’s University of Reading, is another user of TERN samples. Ning and her colleagues predicted leaf nitrogen using ecophysiological measurements extracted from over 400 TERN plant samples in South Australia and the Northern Territory. Amongst other applications, the data Ning’s team collected can be used to link vegetation modelling and ecosystem function, such as in the plant CO2 uptake model featured in this month’s TERN eNewsletter.

Dr Matt Christmas, a Postdoctoral researcher at Sweden’s Uppsala University, is yet another researcher who has benefited from TERN’s sample collection.  Matt has used collections of the native hop bush, Dodonaea viscosa, to help unravel the genetic adaptation of this species and climate change driven migrations.

As the number of researchers using the collection continues to grow, so too does the number of TERN monitoring sites, data and samples.  In late 2016, 15 plots in WA’s Eurardy Reserve, on the edge of WA’s south-west biodiversity hotspot, were added thanks to ongoing collaborations with Bush Heritage Australia.

Be sure to keep an eye out in the TERN eNewsletter for news on the establishment of more new TERN monitoring plots throughout 2017 and 2018.

Published in TERN newsletter September 2017

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