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Director’s Update – June 2020

Welcome to this winter edition of TERN’s 2020 e-newsletter – we are delighted to at last share news of Queensland Government’s co-funding of TERN under its RICF grant scheme. The $1.66M support from the Queensland Government via its Department of Environment and Science recognises the important role of ecosystem monitoring in the State, which has more animal species than anywhere else in Australia, and it is also recognised as one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth. TERN has now received co-funding from the state governments of Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales and it is through such support that TERN can pilot some very specific monitoring programs of great value to current research, such as providing data about impact of climate change along ecosystem transition zones.

Regretfully we haven’t been able to get into the field to set up our new monitoring activities and it is now more than three months since the COVID-19 pandemic stopped TERN’s fieldwork. We are especially disappointed to have interrupted our on-ground collection of data about fire recovery and the general condition of ecosystems around Australia.  For every set back, there is generally a positive facet. In this case, it is fortunate that we’ve had our automated sensors still hard at work during the pandemic lockdown and hope to examine any changes in trends compared to other years. This year, we have a unique opportunity to take advantage of a large, widespread, unintended ecosystem experiment in which human patterns have changed for several months. In Europe, our colleagues at the Integrated Carbon Observation System, ICOS, have done this and were the first to release results of a scientific study that shows a large reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in seven European cities during the COVID 19 virus lockdown. (By the way, did you notice that the ICOS Science Meeting will be held virtually in September? Don’t forget to register.)

Colleagues around the world are calling for studies and data collections such as those by ICOS to be used in designing a more resilient future for humans. TERN is taking this idea on board in its strategic planning, working hard to ensure that the quality-controlled data we collect about the condition of ecosystems is uploaded and readily available at short notice for researchers to incorporate into actionable science for informed decisions. Related to ensuring accessibility and timeliness of TERN’s ecosystem data is transparency and repeatability of the way we collect the data to ensure it is trusted. We are therefore particularly delighted to have had TERN’s surveillance methodology and rationale published this month in an international peer-reviewed journal. The method has of course been readily available for download for some years but it is great to have the researcher community provide critical review, cite it and adapt it for broader use.

We congratulate everyone in the OzFlux community on their 20-year anniversary celebrations – have fun with your upcoming virtual meetings and hangouts! Just think – the quality-controlled regular flux readings measured over the past two decades by the network provide the only data from which researchers are able to build their land surface models for the sorts of temperatures that are now beginning to emerge across Europe. Who knew that drought and hot weather would prove to be so popular? The fact that we make the data openly accessible to the global community has been a profoundly important contribution by Australian science and is a terrific thing to build on in the future.

We were all rather pleased and relieved to see the recommencement of public events at Queensland’s Government House on 18 June following three months pause due to COVID-19 restrictions.Our relief  is because one our distinguished ecosystem science colleagues, 96 year old Emeritus Professor Raymond Specht (Ray), was finally invested with his Australia Day honour, the Order of Australia in the General Division (AO) by his Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC, Governor of Queensland.

If you have studied botany or ecology in Australia, you would undoubtedly have read at least one of Ray’s textbooks or research papers. Therefore, not surprisingly, Ray received his AO for a lifetime of distinguished service to science and to higher education, in the fields of botany, plant ecology, conservation and the environment.  Congratulations Ray!

Finally, did you see the Conversation article on Green Infrastructure on 18 June? It talks about building resilience to extreme events through more deliberate use of green assets. It is worth a read, especially when you think of Costanza’s estimate (albeit outdated) that the biosphere, as the life support system of the planet, contributes an estimated $145 trillion annually to human well-being—twice the global GDP.

We hope you enjoy our collection of articles this month—take a moment to read them before you return to work from the lockdown. 

Beryl-Morris

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