ESC’s review of TERN’s NEPS proposal

The Ecosystem Science Council (ESC) strongly supports the need for a National Environmental Prediction System (NEPS). We endorse the overall design of the administrative and governance structure (social architecture) of NEPS in principle as a network or federation of existing infrastructure. Our critical analysis though raises serious reservations about whether the scoping of the information and technical capabilities of NEPS (as outlined in the system design paper) are sufficient to attract the necessary investment and deliver on this opportunity for ecosystem science researchers. The basis for these reservations is the perceived imbalance and lack of appreciation of the need for ‘prediction’ science part of NEPS. Without a clear and distinctive purpose to implement ecological prediction models, the development of this capability risks dissolving into a system that tries to be ‘everything to everyone’, with much of the investment diverted into existing institutions to make up the ongoing shortfall of investment across the environmental monitoring, reporting and data infrastructure domains. Some good thinking in the NEPS paper is evident in the case for improving data infrastructure access, features and services necessary for decision support. But this component is not balanced by an equal focus on the need for research and development on the very models that underpin prediction, nor on how such models and case studies would drive new data collection efforts to plug known knowledge gaps.

Our recommendations:

  1. Refocus the design of NEPS to better address the infrastructure needs of researchers of predictions and ecosystem science who make up the ecosystem science community.
  2. Restructure the goals to prioritise the building of predictive ecological models identifying and filling of data gaps or availability for reuse, and advancing our understanding about how ecosystems respond to environmental change and management interventions.
  3. Invest in a Centre of Excellence for Environmental Prognosis to guide redesign of the NEPS before developing an investment plan.
  4. Conduct a risk analysis for the project as a whole, specifying key risks to its implementation and uptake, and identifying mitigation measures for these risks.
  5. Address financial compensation for representatives of NEPS, NEPS Technical Committee and representative of the Subdomain Infrastructure Community and NEPS User Community. (no volunteering for information).
  6. Increase the diversity of TERN’s Expert Panel for drafting the Implementation Plan by engaging biotic ecosystem/ecological modelling scientists who specialise in forecasting change in threatened species, non-threatened species, ecological communities and ecosystems in response to rapidly changing pressures and have knowledge of infrastructure design.
  7. Provide feedback to participants of consultations and submissions on how their input has been addressed in the Investment Plan.
  8. Contract reviewers from the Ecological Forecasting Initiative , any one of the leading ecology synthesis centres in the world such as NCEAS, the German Biodiversity Synthesis Centre, or data analytics and modelling experts such as The University of Sydney Centre for Translational Data Science and Data Analytics for Resources and Environment Centre (DARE) to obtain feedback on the draft Investment Plan before submission the Australian Government

We request the Expert Panel address our recommendations in writing to the ESC, identifying how the Panel has adopted (or not) our recommendations in the draft investment plan. We strongly request that the final version of the plan is made public. We also seek an opportunity to enable the ecosystem science community to provide feedback on the final plan before it is submitted to the Australian Government Department of Environment and Energy.

Read full submission