MSPN’s comprehensive monitoring of Australia’s ecosystems

Australia’s biodiversity and ecosystems are recognised globally for their diversity and unique character. The Multi-Scale Plot Network (MSPN) facility of TERN has established consistent, coordinated approaches to monitor our ecosystems, in order to enhance Australia’s capability to understand and manage our natural environments.

The MSPN has implemented field infrastructure and monitoring programs to describe the rate, magnitude and direction of change in ecosystems more comprehensively than ever before. It also facilitates collaboration across the ecosystem science community, and has created a network of ecosystem researchers that is working openly and collaboratively rather than in isolation on individual programs. The synthesis and integration of data across the MSPN as a whole will allow researchers to address novel ecosystem questions, and meet policy and management needs.

Five discrete sub-facilities make up the MPSN, creating a network within the TERN network. While collecting complementary data, each sub-facility has developed infrastructure and processes to address a different aspect of ecosystem research and collect data at different spatial, temporal and information scales.

  • AusPlots Forests is establishing a plot-based monitoring network in Australia’s forest ecosystems and undertaking field monitoring to enable improved understanding of tree growth, forest productivity and carbon dynamics in tall eucalypt forests, in relation to continental-scale environmental gradients. The work of AusPlots Forests scientists is a first step toward robust monitoring of Australian forest ecosystems using nationally standardised measurement protocols.
  • AusPlots Rangelands is establishing a permanent plot-based monitoring network in Australia’s rangeland bioregions and undertaking baseline surveys of vegetation and soils at these plots. In addition to filling knowledge gaps, this work facilitates ongoing evidence-based decision-making capacity at local, regional, national and international levels.
  • The Australian Supersite Network (ASN) is a national network of multidisciplinary ecosystem observatories, located in significant Australian biomes spanning a wide range of environmental conditions. Each supersite hosts an OzFlux tower, and researchers also collect various ecosystem measurements including detailed datasets on flora, fauna and biophysical processes. Through this work, the ASN aims to improve our understanding of how ecosystems respond to environmental change.
  • The Australian Transect Network (ATN) includes four sub-continental transects that span biomes and traverse major rainfall, temperature and land-use gradients from the coast to the inland. The transects are used to study ecological and genetic structure and processes along biophysical gradients, observe regional patterns and trends, and help researchers predict how species and ecosystems may change.
  • The Long-Term Ecological Research Network (LTERN) brings together 12 long-term ecological plot monitoring programs across a range of Australian ecosystems. Detailed information from these plots about vegetation, soils, invertebrates, birds, reptiles, arboreal marsupials, genetics and phenology permits better understanding and interpretation of environmental change.

Professor Mike Liddell, the Director of ASN, and Andrew Thompson atop
the canopy crane at the Far North Queensland Rainforest Supersite

Data collected through the MSPN’s infrastructure will be made available through the Australian Ecological Knowledge and Observation System (ÆKOS) developed by Eco-Informatics, and also a data portal hosted by the Australian Supersite Network. As for all TERN facilities, all of the metadata and data can also be found through the TERN Data Discovery Portal. This facilitation of data sharing represents a fundamental shift in the way ecosystem science has been conducted to date, and is consistent with the TERN approach to environmental data sharing and collaboration.

Already the MSPN’s infrastructure, data and products are having an impact on ecosystem science, policy and management in Australia. For example, the AusPlots Rangelands field monitoring protocols have been adopted across all rangelands jurisdictions and by a range of private groups. In South Australia, research using the Australian Transect Network’s infrastructure is delivering information that will directly meet key policy needs of local land managers as they tackle the challenge of managing land in a changing climate. Similarly, work at the Warra Tall Eucalypt Supersite in Tasmania is informing new forestry harvesting practices that will help to protect native fauna, while research coming out of LTERN is helping to inform conservation and management of some of Australia’s unique ecosystems, such as the alpine regions.

Anyone wanting to use the MSPN’s infrastructure and networks is encouraged to get in touch with the relevant contact people across the MSPN:

  • MSPN Director, Associate Professor Nikki Thurgate
  • AusPlots Rangelands Coordinator, Dr Andrew White
  • AusPlots Forests Coordinator, Dr Sam Wood
  • Australian Transect Network Coordinator, Mr Stefan Caddy-Retalic
  • LTERN Assistant Director, Dr Emma Burns
  • Australian Supersite Network, Dr Mirko Karan.
Associate Professor Glenda Wardle and colleagues survey small mammals at the Desert Ecology Plot Network, one of the sites that makes up LTERN Ben Sparrow, MSPN Science and Technical Lead, demonstrates the use
of a basal wedge to people attending an AusPlots Rangelands training
at the Great Western Woodlands Supersite in October 2012

Published in TERN e-Newsletter December 2012

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