Availability of information

2016

Understanding of the state and trend of biodiversity in Australia is limited. Few long-term national-scale monitoring programs are available; there are some disparate datasets on a smattering of species and ecosystems at regional to local levels. Although long-term monitoring has been recognised as a fundamental gap in designing effective management by the scientific community, Australia does not have an agreed plan for how to address this gap. This lack of information is also widely acknowledged by policy-makers and resource managers as a major impediment to biodiversity conservation. The lack of effective monitoring and reporting has been raised consistently in every SoE report since 1996, in every jurisdictional report, in the original National strategy for the conservation of Australia’s biological diversity (1996) and in the updated Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010–2030 (NRMMC 2010) as a major impediment to understanding the state and trends of Australian biodiversity. In 2016, the situation remains the same.

Although a key objective of Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010–2030 is to ‘by 2015, establish a national long-term biodiversity monitoring and reporting system’, this has not been completed. The Australian Government has made some progress in the past 5 years in seeking to establish formal monitoring programs as a fundamental component of several of its large-scale, long-term environmental initiatives, but these are a collection of discrete activities and, when compiled, fall well short of a comprehensive national system.

The Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network, funded through the Australian Government Department of Innovation, Science and Research, commenced funding in 2011 to maintain existing long-term plot networks and environmental gradient transects in several parts of Australia. This resulted in about 500 plots of varying sizes across a wide (but not comprehensive) range of ecosystem types.

Specific monitoring programs do exist for some individual threatened species, and for area-based management of mammal species and broadscale predator control programs (e.g. Western Shield in Western Australia and Gippsland Ark in south-east Australia). Western Shield is one of the biggest wildlife conservation programs ever undertaken in Australia and re-establishes native animals in selected areas of Western Australia to levels comparable to pre-European settlement. These types of programs are characterised by excellent monitoring (e.g. Wayne et al. 2015).

Monitoring programs run by nongovernment organisations are increasing as independent land conservation bodies continue to acquire and protect land for biodiversity conservation. Major programs run by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Bush Heritage Australia, The Nature Conservancy, the Tasmanian Land Conservancy and Trust for Nature contribute new information about the state and trend of threatened species, in particular.

The National Environmental Research Program (NERP) Marine Biodiversity Hub developed an outline for monitoring marine biodiversity based on identifying the informative links between values and pressures (see the Marine environment report, Box MAR11). Such an approach could improve monitoring and assessment of the environment, including beginning to deal with the cumulative impact from multiple sectors. At a regional level, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has compiled the Science strategy and information needs for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to identify priority information needs. The aim is to ensure that monitoring activities are relevant and targeted to address management issues, and that the outcomes for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are easily identifiable and accessible (GBRMPA 2014).

The NERP Northern Hub developed monitoring and reporting tools in collaboration with Indigenous land and sea managers to monitor seagrass feeding grounds, turtles, dugongs and freshwater wetlands. The NERP Tropical Ecosystems Hub also developed baseline monitoring data on 2 key threatened species: the southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) in the Wet Tropics region part of its range and the spectacled flying fox (Pteropus conspicillatus). Further to this, the Australian, and state and territory governments are working together to implement a multiyear monitoring program known as the National Flying-fox Monitoring Programme, which is primarily focused on monitoring national grey-headed (Pteropus poliocephalus) and spectacled flying fox populations.

Southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) at Meunga Creek, far north Queensland. Photo by David Westcott

Photo by David Westcott

Southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) at Meunga Creek, far north Queensland. 

Cresswell ID, Murphy H (2016). Biodiversity: Availability of information. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/biodiversity/topic/2016/availability-information-0, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65ac828812