Terrestrial Ecosystems Research Network (TERN) Great Western Woodlands Supersite
The CSIRO and the Department of Environment and Conservation WA (DEC) have established a new TERN research supersite in 2011. The supersite is centred on the Great Western Woodlands (GWW) of south-western Australia, in recognition of the international biological significance of this 16 million hectare mosaic of temperate woodland, shrubland and mallee vegetation (Fig. 1). The supersite extends into the adjacent wheatbelt region, and aims to address nationally and regionally significant land management issues relevant to agriculture, mining, pastoralism and biodiversity.
A consortium of scientists from CSIRO, WA Department of Environment and Conservation and universities will establish a portfolio of projects across the supersite (Fig. 2), through consultation with WA state and local government agencies and stakeholders in the community and the mining industry. A focus of the supersite will be an ‘OzFlux’ climate station at Credo station near Kalgoorlie, that will monitor the energy, water and carbon balance of mature eucalypt woodland that is representative of natural landscapes across these regions (Fig. 2).
The supersite will provide input data towards developing process-based ecosystem models to simulate ecosystem responses to climate and land-use change. These will help managers predict the biophysical impact of management options, which will feed into decision making that considers the environmental, economic and social impact of land management. The supersite will also link with the ‘AusCover’ initiative of TERN (led in WA by Curtin University), that will develop calibrated and value-added remote-sensing products using ground-based measurements in the GWW and other supersites.
Why the Great Western Woodlands?
The GWW region is extraordinary in that it has remained relatively intact since European settlement, owing to the variable rainfall and lack of readily accessible groundwater. Other temperate woodlands around the world have typically become highly fragmented and degraded through agricultural use. The woodland component is also globally unique in that nowhere else do woodlands occur at as little as 250 mm mean annual rainfall. The GWW is thus of great ecological interest because it provides a unique opportunity to study how relatively intact ecosystems function and adapt to climate change.
Relevance to agriculture
The Western Australian wheatbelt has many areas of analogous climate, geology and vegetation to the adjacent GWW, but the native vegetation is highly fragmented and often degraded. Multi-million dollar ecological restoration efforts in the wheatbelt are constrained by limited baseline data on the natural functioning of wheatbelt ecosystems. Research at the GWW supersite aims to improve our knowledge of ecological processes that underpin effective restoration, and guide the choice of genotypes and functional types for climate resilient restoration of the WA wheatbelt.
Relevance to mining and pastoralism
The goldfields region is a very active mining region. The mining industry has a need to understand the functioning of the landscapes in which it operates, to quantify and mitigate potential impacts during the exploration and active mining phases, to remediate landscapes post-mining and to manage extensive pastoral leases. For example an important question in these semi-arid landscapes is “Where do woodland eucalypts obtain their water from?” An understanding of the interaction between woodland species’ distributions and hydrology is essential to plan for the impacts of dewatering and to inform post-mining rehabilitation.
Relevance to ecology and biodiversity
An understanding of the ecology of the GWW underpins management decisions in industries such as agriculture and mining, but is also important for addressing other nationally significant issues such as “Are old-growth woodlands carbon sources or carbon sinks?”, and predicting impacts of changed climate, exotic invasions and changed fire regimes on the persistence, productivity and biodiversity of its ecosystems. By asking questions such as “What determines the Menzies line (the striking boundary between eucalypt woodlands and mulga) and how is this likely to shift under climate change?”, “What are the key pathways to weed invasion, and how can they be mitigated?”, and “How can traditional owners contribute to fire management in the GWW?” , the GWW supersite aims to increase our fundamental understanding GWW ecology and inform contemporary management.
PI: Suzanne Prober
PI: Craig Macfarlane