The collection of ecological information in the field is essential for us to understand how Australian ecosystems work, and in turn provide the underpinning information on how to appropriately manage these systems. However this information can be collected in a range of ways from establishing a large number of plots across a Continent to provide an early warning system to detect changes, through the repeated monitoring of plots over decades to understand the influence of disturbance on ecosystems, to the concentrated effort required at focal sites to measure the dynamics of biodiversity, carbon and water cycling around a system. A new framework, the Multi-Scale Plot Network, has been established by the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) to combine these very different information and spatial scale of ecosystem monitoring, and is the first step towards a comprehensive ecological monitoring system for Australia.
The Multi-Scale Plot Network concept is novel in that it represents a shift in the way ecosystem data are collected, shared and managed. Engaging scientists in this approach has been challenging for TERN, and currently a number of papers describing this approach, and the importance of long-term data sets in biodiversity monitoring in Australia, have produced.
The team have spent considerable time developing agreed survey methodologies, and for the first time ever an agreed nationally consistent methodology is available for the surveillance monitoring of rangeland ecosystems, termed AusPlots – rangelands (see AusPlots website. This method is a repeatable and efficient set of protocols for covering vegetation, soil, and photopoints.
The innovative photopoint methodology, developed in collaboration with the Australian Centre for Visual Technologies, derives significantly more useful ecological information than 2D images. Research is underway to derive measures of biomass for each site from complete three-dimensional reconstructions based on photographic panoramas.
The AusPlots methodology can be downloaded here.