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Making better decisions in conservation policy

An ACEAS-funded workshop aims to assist decision makers in natural resource management and planning set better priorities for policies aimed at the conservation of native species.

The workshop group, led by Ms Tania Laity, from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Populations and Communities, intends to improve the function of the Australian Natural Heritage Assessment Tool (ANHAT), which gives a picture of the distribution of native species and ecosystems over time and across the continent (species’ biogeography). The tool is used in natural resource management and conservation planning.

The ACEAS workshop will bring together leading biodiversity scientists and practitioners to evaluate data held in ANHAT so that evolutionary relationships between species can be considered when conservation priorities are assessed. Some information for mammals has already been tested in ANHAT, but it needs to be improved to allow more sophisticated interpretations to be made. By expanding the tool to cover all native plants, vertebrates and invertebrates, the workshop team will make a considerable contribution to ANHAT, and this, in turn, will help policy makers and regulators make better decisions.

The project is called ‘Integrating measures of phylogenetic and taxonomic diversity and endemism into national conservation assessment’. It is one of five funded in the December round of ACEAS’s open-call funding.

Making stream monitoring robust

In another project recently funded, Dr Fran Sheldon at Griffith University, leads a group that will investigate how to use spatial modelling to formulate more robust predictions about the health of streams. Most streams are monitored at numerous points along their course, and the monitoring data aggregated into catchments or regions when management decisions are being made. However, this process can be inaccurate when data are missing from some sites, or if a variety of tools and techniques are used in the measurement. Fran’s group will investigate whether spatial models can improve current methods.

The workshop is called ‘Local to national: the capacity for increasing the spatial scale of monitoring’.

Response to climate change may be written in the past

An international working group will gather evidence of how species endemic to Australia have responded to climate change in the past, to predict how organisms might adapt to future changes. The information collected will contribute to baseline data for models used to predict the effects of an increasingly arid climate.

Most current predictions on climate change adaptation are based on studies of the responses of organisms to the late Pleistocene glacial phases in the Northern Hemisphere. However, conditions in Australia at that time were different, and quite similar to the climatic changes Australia is facing now: an expansion of arid and semi-arid zones and contraction of moister environments, and the loss of vegetation cover over inland Australia. Existing genetic data indicate a massive toll on a wide range of Australian terrestrial animals during this period.

The project, ‘Using genetics to reconstruct the impacts of past climate change on Australian endemics’, is led by Professor Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide. Alan said that by understanding how and why organisms responded to climate change, managers may be better able to predict how to preserve biological diversity.

This working group was also funded in ACEAS’s December round of open-call funding.

Understanding how aquatic plants adapt

In another project funded by ACEAS in the recent round, scientists will investigate which wetland and riverine plants are likely to adapt better to climate change.

To do this, the group, led by Professor Max Finlayson, of Charles Sturt University, will test current empirical models of the ability of aquatic plants to re-colonise their usual habitats when favourable conditions return after droughts or floods. This is important because it is expected that more waterways will be actively managed in future, in response to growing human needs and uncertainty about water supplies with changes in climate patterns. Managed systems are likely to become either wetter or drier for longer periods than unmanaged systems, and the group wants to know which plants will tolerate these kinds of managed environments.

The project is called ‘Adaptation pathways for aquatic plants under climate change: facilitating dispersal and management interventions’.

Published in TERN e-Newsletter February 2012

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