Enabling Ecosystem Surveillance

Our ecosystems are vital national assets, and can only be effectively managed if we have an ongoing capacity to track and monitor their status. Future generations of Australians will need access to this information to understand patterns of change and ongoing ecosystem processes, and to make informed decisions about the use and management of land- and seascapes.

Australia has many ecosystem monitoring programs focused on particular management issues. However, we have very few long-term ecosystem data sets collected over areas larger than catchments or states, at regular time periods, and in a standardised manner in the context of long- term surveillance. We have no national system for the analysis, evaluation and reporting of ecosystem measurements. Indeed, there is currently no consensus on what aspects of ecosystems should be measured, or on what methods to employ for measuring ecosystem health. This is in stark contrast to our well-established weather-station network, our census of households and our reporting of economic indicators.

The priority for this Key Direction is to facilitate and promote the development of systematic, continental-scale monitoring of essential ecosystem variables that reflect the health of our ecosystems. There are three components to this as identified in the Foundations for the future:

  • Catalogue and assess existing ecosystem monitoring programs that have potential for contributing to ecosystem surveillance. This assessment is to be collaborative across local, state and national agencies and organisations, across different disciplines, and across all ecosystem science domains.
  • Discuss widely the options and priorities. Consistency, continuity and adaptability of monitoring will be the priority as the aim is for future generations to be in a position to look back objectively over past changes. To achieve continuity over coming centuries, proposals need to be modest enough that sustained bipartisan government commitment can be forthcoming. Alternatives could be developed and adapted to different levels of resourcing. Our commitment is to, in the first instance, resolve internal debates about what to measure, and to bring forward agreed and costed proposals.
  • Advocate to relevant parties for establishment, implementation, and enduring long-term support of the proposed surveillance program.

Working Group

A new working group is being formed to work with the Ecosystem Science Council and ecosystem science community in advancing this Key Direction. The Working Group will promote, coordinate and participate in activities to achieve the priority for this Key Direction as noted above. It will include representatives of the ecosystem science community that have a direct experience with undertaking ecosystem surveillance within research institutions, governments, industry, community groups and NGOs.

Information about the responsibilities, roles, tasks, membership criteria and the selection process are detailed in the Terms of Reference available here.

EOIs for this working group have now closed, and the Council is in the process of contacting people who submitted EOIs to form the working group. For more information please contact Dr Alex Kutt.