Vegetation

2016

The resilience of vegetation is largely determined by our success or failure in maintaining resilience in landscapes and soils, as discussed in the Landscape and soil section. Maintenance of vegetation is both a factor in and a consequence of maintaining resilience in the rest of the biodiversity of a region. The resilience of vegetation to change depends on the extent to which essential ecological processes are maintained.

Resilience is greatest in areas where vegetation is largely intact, or where extensive patches of largely intact native vegetation are continuous or at least contiguous, so that connectivity is maintained between them for the movement of animals, seeds, pollen and other disseminules. In such areas, if disturbance is at levels consistent with background environmental processes and at an appropriate scale relative to the remnants, native vegetation and the communities dependent on it are reasonably resilient. These areas include land managed for conservation, and large areas of remote Australia; however, even here, unnatural disturbance—such as bushfires at a higher frequency or intensity, or the effects of feral animals (see Pressures affecting the land environment)—can dramatically reduce resilience.

In areas where connectivity is poor, or where dispersal is limited by lack of appropriate animal vectors, proactive restoration may be necessary to rebuild resilience. A National Wildlife Corridors Plan was announced in 2012 to help link protected areas and facilitate movement of animals in response to changing climate, but this plan ceased in 2014 after funding reductions. Activities that support or increase connectivity are still funded through the National Landcare Programme, and through state and territory funding, but not in the coordinated way that was envisaged. The private sector, community groups and nongovernment organisations play a very significant role in active rehabilitation of landscape.

Landscape resilience is also being supported through a diversification of the land managers with responsibility for natural and production landscapes, ensuring that a variety of experience and perspectives are available. Increases in opportunities for Indigenous rangers to incorporate traditional ecological knowledge in management of Country help build cultural and community resilience, as well as increasing environmental resilience. Better sharing of monitoring data, cultural understandings, scientific best practice and management experience is needed to ensure that all perspectives and information are available as we make challenging decisions about future land management in environmental contexts we are not familiar with.

Photo of wildfire in coastal vine thicket pormpuraaw

Pristine coastal habitat, western Tasmania

Photo by Ian Cresswell, CSIRO

Metcalfe D, Bui E (2016). Land: Vegetation. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/land/topic/2016/vegetation-1, DOI 10.4226/94/58b6585f94911