Nation-wide SuperSites support next crop of ecosystem scientists

TERN is strongly committed to furthering our understanding of Australian ecosystems by providing the scientific infrastructure for research, training and educational activities.  In this article we explore the many ways in which the infrastructure of just one TERN facility, the Australian SuperSite Network (SuperSites), is enabling such rich and diverse training opportunities for the next generation of ecosystem scientists.

Educational activities across the SuperSites range from school and university field trips and internships to postgraduate research undertaken at the SuperSites.

At the newest SuperSite in the ASN, Litchfield Savanna SuperSite in the Northern Territory, Charles Darwin University is already utilising the site to train undergraduate and postgraduate students in remote-sensing and field work techniques. Students are taught the same field data sampling techniques as those used by TERN researchers, enabling the students to play a role much greater than simply collecting data needed for their studies. Using standard methods on permanent plots and transects means that the data the students collect at the supersite can be added to the SuperSite’s data collection.

At Credo Station, within the Great Western Woodlands SuperSite a new multi-purpose field studies centre was opened in Oct 2013 for educators and scientists. This new infrastructure is used by researchers and for educating school groups and the public by providing evidence-based interpretive information that can be used for further study.

The Victorian Dry Eucalypt SuperSite hosts postgraduate research projects and University of Melbourne postgraduate subjects within the Master of Environment and Master of Forest and Ecosystem Science stream.

In 2013 students from Carey Baptist Grammar School in Melbourne travelled to the Cape Tribulation node of FNQ Rainforest SuperSite for some hands-on ecosystem science. They participated in the collection of a range of data designed to profile rainforest structure, the growth rates of rainforest tree species, the species composition of bird populations in the rainforest, and the distribution and abundance of fungi. The school aims to re-visit the site every two years with new students and accumulate their own time series data. The node also regularly hosts international undergraduate groups from the American University International Program as well as high school groups from the USA.

At the Robson Creek node of the FNQ Rainforest SuperSite staff of James Cook University use the site for undergraduate field trips, which provide students with the opportunity to learn methods in collecting field data to describe patterns in biodiversity.

Staff and students of James Cook University releasing a red-bellied black snake back where it was captured at the Robson Creek node of TERN’s FNQ Rainforest SuperSite (photo courtesy of Nadiah Roslan, James Cook University)

At the Calperum Mallee SuperSite, education and capacity building are high priority activities for the site managers, Australian Landscape Trust. In 2009-2010, they supported delivery of over 3,100 person-days of accredited training – either with its own staff and resources or through partnerships with other organisations. Educational activities happening at the site include:

  • Primary and Secondary school camps and day trips, including support for lesson planning and delivery (recently Noarlunga High School, Brighton High School, Cornerstone College, Thomas Moore High School).
  • Hosting undergraduate university and TAFE field trips;
  • Support for postgraduate research students carrying out fieldwork on site;
  • Occasional training workshops for volunteers and community members;
  • Hosting International Student Volunteers from the USA and Canada over their summer holidays.
  • Traineeships for Riverland Aboriginal Rangers in Conservation and Land Management.

In addition to educational activities at the SuperSites, the network is also involved in many public outreach activities, which aim to promote public understanding of ecosystem science and the various Australian biomes studied by SuperSites.

The EarthWATCH Institute and Conservation Volunteers Australia are developing volunteering opportunities at the SuperSites for 2014 and beyond that will allow volunteers to experience the unique environments and contribute to scientific data collection at the sites.

Plans are being formulated to create ClimateWatch trails at the SuperSites which will enable casual citizen scientists to contribute to phenonolgical and biodiversity datasets using dedicated apps developed for each location.

At the Calperum Mallee SuperSite all of the rehabilitation and management programs rely on the willingness of community members to volunteer their time and effort in support. Over more than a decade of shared management responsibility, volunteers have consistently donated around 10,000 hours a year to looking after Calperum and neighbouring Taylorville Stations. This includes a paddock adoption scheme where groups of community volunteers take responsibility for managing sections of the property by performing tasks such as feral animal control and infrastructure maintenance.

Students of Charles Darwin University use the permanent transects at Litchfield Savanna SuperSite to develop their skills and collect ecological data that will be added to the site’s data compendium, thus aiding further research at the site (photo courtesy of Karen Joyce)

Published in TERN newsletter September 2014

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