South-western woodlands a focus of research

Several TERN facilities are involved in the establishment of a supersite in a remarkable part of Australia, the 16 million hectare Great Western Woodland (GWW) in the south-west of the continent.

The woodland supersite is part of the Australian Supersite Network that is a component of TERN’s Multi-Scale Plot Network, which will link the TERN site, plot and transect studies across Australia.

A supersite is an intensive land observatory set up to examine the status and processes of one of Australia’s terrestrial ecosystems. Each comprises a main field site where measurements of vegetative, faunal and biophysical characteristics are taken, and works over at least one transect (or slice of land across a landscape) of changing topographical or ecological features in a typical and important ecological community. The scale of the supersites (10–200 km, measured according to the size of the transect) is larger than an AusPlots site but smaller than a plot system in the Long-Term Ecological Research Network (LTERN).

 OzFlux is setting up a 36 m tall tower with micrometeorological equipment at the former Credo Station, near Kalgoorlie, to measure the  exchange of energy, carbon and water of the mature eucalypt woodland that grows in the area.

The GWW is of national and international ecological significance, as it contains the largest intact example of Mediterranean woodland in the world.

Dr Suzanne Prober, the CSIRO scientist leading the GWW supersite, said the region was of great interest ecologically.

‘The GWW region is extraordinary in that it has remained relatively intact since European settlement, owing to the variable rainfall and lack of readily accessible groundwater suitable for livestock,’ she said.

The woodland also provides a theme area for an ACEAS-funded working group that will focus on prioritising regional vegetation conservation.

CSIRO and the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation are leading the establishment of the GWW supersite in 2011.

Salmon gum (Eucalyptus salmonophloia) and gimlet (E. salubris) woodlands of the Great
Western Woodlands (Photo courtesy of CSIRO)

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