TERN sample collections empower Australian science

The extensive sample collections generated by TERN’s Australian Transect Network (ATN) and AusPlots facilities are empowering new science across Australia. With over 330 1-hectare sites already surveyed by the facilities, thousands of samples are now available to interested researchers, the first of whom have begun to take advantage of this powerful resource.

Matt Christmas, a PhD student at the University of Adelaide, has used ATN collections of the native hop bush Dodonaea viscosa to help unravel the genetic adaptation of this species.

“Dodonaea viscosa is a complex species which includes seven subspecies. Using the samples provided by TERN means that I can significantly broaden my field collections, improving my ability to analyse the genetic patterns across its entire range,” says Matt.

Samples can also be combined with published data to provide a rich ecological resource. Honours student Sian Howard used the Soils to Satellites website, a joint project between TERN and the Australian National Data Service (ANDS), to identify the dominant species at a range of AusPlots and ATN sites spanning an ecological gradient from the south coast to northern Australia.

Sian was then able to access the samples to extract leaf-waxes from dried plant specimens and soils stored by TERN. Sian’s supervisor and newly-arrived ARC Future Fellow Dr Francesca McInerney was impressed by the sample collections available.

“Being able to access these collections means we were able to significantly expand the scope of this project,” said Francesca. “This is an amazing resource provided by TERN. I only wish we had similarly available and well documented collections in the United States!”  

Another project currently underway is an analysis by PhD Candidate Ms Ning Dong. Ning has used over 400 samples from South Australia and the Northern Territory to undertake an isotope project examining community signatures on a North-South transect across Australia.

Stefan Caddy-Retalic, Director of the ATN, was excited about the use of these samples. “It’s fantastic to see that the hard work of our field teams is being appreciated and empowering new science.

So far, our samples have been used in genetic, plant chemistry and isotope projects, and other researchers have expressed interest in metabarcoding and genomic applications. The broadening of scope and new collaborations that are being formed out of these projects are fantastic to see.”

Data for over 120 AusPlots and ATN sites has now been published on Soils to Satellites, with surveys completed for over 200 more which are currently being curated.

The number of sites continues to grow, with an additional 15 sites in the Simpson Desert just sampled under an exciting new collaboration with TERN’s Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTERN). By co-locating sampling sites and working with LTERN’s Desert Ecology Plot Network, ATN and AusPlots researchers are gaining vital contextual information for interpreting their data. The new sites are also benefiting LTERN researchers by providing new insights into their understanding of the ecosystem dynamics and how these are changing over time.

Keep an eye out in upcoming TERN newsletters for more news on this new collaboration and if you are interested in applying to use ATN and/or AusPlots samples please contact or

University of Adelaide PhD students Matt Christmas (forground) and Nick Gellie (background) helping out with some AusPlots field work (photo courtesy of Matt Christmas)

University of Adelaide honours student Sian Howard used the Soils to Satellites website to identify the dominant species at a range of AusPlots and ATN sites spanning an ecological gradient from the south coast to northern Australia (photo courtesy of Sian Howard)

Published in TERN newsletter May 2014

Share Article