Category Archives: Ecosystem services

Slopes2Summit Bushlinks Project

Keywords – landscape, connectivity, restoration, revegetation, NSW southwest slopes

The Slopes2Summit (S2S) Bushlinks project commenced in August 2012 and is in the first stage of implementing on-ground works to build landscape-scale connectivity across private lands in the southwest Slopes of NSW – from the wet and dry forest ecosystems of the upper catchment and reserves to the threatened Grassy Box Woodlands of the lower slopes and plains (Fig 1.).

Fig 1. Map of the S2S area and priority landscapes for Bushlinks

Fig 1. Map of the S2S area and priority landscapes for Bushlinks

The increasing isolation of plant and animal populations in “island” reserves scattered through an agricultural landscape is a recognised threat to the long term viability and resilience of ecosystems under potential impact of climate change. If we can increase the viable breeding habitat through off-reserve remnant conservation, and increase the habitat for dispersal by increasing connectivity, we may be able to influence the trajectory for some of our species – the Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis)) and threatened woodland birds in particular.

The S2S Bushlinks Project is attempting to address connectivity issues through the following approaches:

1. Cross property planning. Foster and encourage cross property planning for habitat connectivity between neighbours, community, Landcare and/or subcatchment groups resulting in more integrated on-ground works projects, and raising awareness of the benefits of connectivity for wildlife.

2. On-ground investment in connectivity. The project is partnering with farmers and land managers to support and encourage fencing and revegetation in strategic places in the landscape with the objective of increasing habitat connectivity.  S2S Bushlinks applies scientific principles to the site assessments and evaluation, which then sets the level of investment in a site.  High scoring sites receive the highest rates of rebate, but the provision of low levels of public investment in sites that may not be of high priority is important for fostering participation in revegetation of any sort to encourage the culture of caring for the land.

Site assessment and scoring for funding level uses the following criteria:

  • Connectivity and landscape value – Does the site link to or create new patches of habitat according to principles of habitat connectivity? (Fig 2)  Is there existing vegetation in 1000ha radius around the site in an optimal range of 30-60%?
  • Area : perimeter ratio – Bigger blocks of revegetation are more cost-efficient and better habitat than linear strips of revegetation, and the project scoring encourages landholder to go bigger and wider in order to qualify for a higher level of funding.
  • Habitat Values – Does the site have existing values like old paddock trees, rocky outcrops or intact native ground layer, and therefore become a more valuable site? Is it in the more fertile, productive parts of the landscape and therefore of more productivity benefit for wildlife as well?
  • Carbon value – The scoring is based on the size of the revegetation and rainfall zone. The CFI Reforestation tool is being used to value the collective potential carbon sequestration of the Bushlinks project.

The emphasis on cross-property planning flows through to the implementation of on-ground works. Landholders are encouraged to work with neighbours and the site evaluation system is used to assess site value without the property boundaries – cooperation makes the site bigger and usually increases the connectivity value, and therefore scores higher.

3. Review and adaptive management process. The site assessment is to be reviewed in July 2013 against the objectives – did it work to prioritise sites well – did we invest wisely? The scientists and experts are then able to work closely with Holbrook Landcare to adjust the project eligibility, assessment and evaluation criteria to continually improve the outcomes in subsequent funding years.

4. Monitoring framework. As part of the in-kind contribution to the project, S2S partners Dr Dave Watson, CSU Albury and Dr. Veronica Doerr, CSIRO are working towards a framework for the long-term monitoring of landscape scale connectivity for continental-scale initiatives like Great Eastern Ranges (GER).  As part of a GER Environmental Trust Project in 2013, an expert panel workshop will be convened to begin this process in 2013.

The framework will then be used to pilot a project-scale design for Bushlinks, which will allow us to measure ecological outcomes.

Bushlinks will contribute to the Slope2Summit portal of the Atlas of Living Australia, supported by the Slopes2Summit facilitator. To develop community participation in monitoring and evaluation, participants and the wider community will be encouraged to contribute wildlife sightings and other data to the atlas.

The S2S partnership applied for funds through the Australian Governments Clean Energy Futures Biodiversity Fund in 2011 and was successful in the 2011/12 funding year for a six year project. Holbrook Landcare Network is managing the S2S Bushlinks Project on behalf of the Slopes2Summit and the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative, in partnership with Murray CMA.

Contact: Kylie Durant, Bushlinks Project Officer, Holbrook Landcare Network, PO Box 121 Holbrook, NSW 2644 Australia. Tel: +61 2 6036 3121

Fig 2. Summary of the connectivity model outlined in Doerr, V.A.J., Doerr, E. D and Davies, M.J. (2010) Does Structural Connectivity Facilitate Dispersal of Native Species in Australia’s Fragmented Terrestrial Landscapes? CEE Review 08-007 (SR44). Collaboration for Environmental Evidence: www.environmentalevidence.org/SR44.html

Fig 2. Summary of the connectivity model outlined in Doerr, V.A.J., Doerr, E. D and Davies, M.J. (2010) Does Structural Connectivity Facilitate Dispersal of Native Species in Australia’s Fragmented Terrestrial Landscapes? CEE Review 08-007 (SR44). Collaboration for Environmental Evidence: http://www.environmentalevidence.org/SR44.html

Fig 3. Revegetation in the farming landscape in the Southwest Slopes of NSW

Fig 3. Revegetation in the farming landscape in the Southwest Slopes of NSW

 

 

Holbrook Landcare “Rebirding the Holbrook Landscape” – assessing performance and learning in action

Chris Cumming and  Kylie Durant

Key words: tree dieback, lerps, restoring the agricultural landscape, community involvement, Holbrook Landcare Network

Holbrook producers established Holbrook Landcare Network in 1988.  It was one of the first Landcare groups in Australia, covering initially 171,000 ha of productive agricultural land in the upper reaches of the Murray Darling Basin. The organisation has directly managed grants of more than $6M across more than 85 projects to address NRM and agricultural issues including salinity and erosion control, soil and pasture management the protection of wildlife habitat.

Of the habitat projects, one of the most successful has been the “Rebirding Project”. A recognition of the importance of birds in the landscape occurred in 1994, when there was widespread concern in Holbrook over eucalypt tree dieback and the potential loss of paddock trees in the landscape. Holbrook Landcare commissioned a survey that identified 41% of the trees in the district were showing signs of dieback, and initiated (with support from our own extension staff and Greening Australia) education programs to inform landholders about the causes of dieback, including the link between cycles of lerp and other insect attack exacerbated by the loss of insectivorous birds.

In 1999 the group was successful in gaining funding for the “Rebirding the Holbrook Landscape to mitigate dieback” revegetation program through the Australian Governments Natural Heritage Trust (NHT), with the aim of drawing birds back onto farms and reducing eucalypt tree dieback.

Actions undertaken. Bird surveys were undertaken at 94 study sites in remnant vegetation on hills, flats and along creek lines. Education components succeeded in engaging the community and increased community knowledge and awareness of habitat issues in Holbrook.  The research information was used to recommend specific guidelines for the revegetation component, including ideal patch size (min 6ha), distance to remnant (1km), position in the landscape and habitat values.

The Rebirding on-ground projects (1999 – 2002) achieved 2150ha of remnant and revegetation work and put 475,000 plants back in the landscape across 118 properties – estimated at 80% of the Holbrook landholders.

Outcomes achieved. Measuring success of the program was very important to the community. A partnership with CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems gave rise to a research project measuring bird use of plantings and remnant vegetation on local farms in 2004 to 2006.  This found that a range of bird species rapidly colonised planted areas and showed evidence of breeding activity, a positive message about the early signs of success of the Rebirding project. Tree health monitoring is ongoing by the community. Current ANU research is showing the positive benefit of the revegetation work in the landscape at the site, farm and landscape scale. The science is therefore indicating that yes, “rebirding” of the Holbrook landscape is underway, and HLN will continue to look to science to help us with the longer term outcomes for birds and tree health, and provide the feedback to us to adaptively manage our programs for the best outcomes.

The lessons and recommendations that come from the research are being applied directly to inform the design of subsequent programs such as the current major biodiversity project being managed by Holbrook Landcare – the “Slopes to Summit Bushlinks Project”.

Contacts: Chris Cumming (Executive Officer) and Kylie Durant,  Holbrook Landcare Network, PO Box 181 Holbrook NSW, Australia.  2644 Tel: +61 2 6036 3121, Email: kyliedurant@holbrooklandcare.org.au.

Paddock tree health field day, Holbrook, 2011.

Paddock tree health field day, Holbrook, 2011.

Before planting habitat blocks at Woomargama station, Holbrook.

Before planting habitat blocks at Woomargama station, Holbrook.

Stands of trees and shrubs established at Woomargama station, Holbrook.

Stands of trees and shrubs established at Woomargama station, Holbrook.

The Ridgefield Multiple Ecosystem Services Experiment: restoring and sustaining function in degraded ecosystems

Key words: carbon sequestration, invasion resistance, nutrient cycling, novel ecosystems, intervention ecology

Mike Perring

Introduction. Multiple, simultaneous, and rapid environmental changes make sustaining and restoring ecosystem functions an increasingly important but challenging task. The Ridgefield Multiple Ecosystem Services Experiment, being undertaken at the University of Western Australia’s Future Farm in the Western Australian wheat belt, tests the application of current ideas in ecology to ecological restoration, and seeks insights into how management interventions can sustain and restore multiple ecosystem functions in an era of rapid environmental change.

Design. Our experiment tests how different woody plant species mixtures affect provision of ecosystem functions and services, including carbon storage, nutrient cycling, invasion resistance, biodiversity maintenance, and prevention of soil erosion. We also consider potential tradeoffs in the provision of ecosystem functions, how different plant species mixtures may respond to simultaneous environmental changes, and how different plant species assemblages may affect other trophic levels, both above and below ground.

Experimental treatments, across 124 23x11m rip line plots, comprise native tree and shrub species, and span a diversity gradient from bare and single-species to mixtures of eight species. Species belong to four different functional groups based on differing nutrient acquisition strategies and morphologies. Plant assemblage treatments are replicated across former grazing and cropped landscapes.

The Ridgefield experimental site with formerly cropped area to the right and grazed blocks in middle and left (December 2010)

In addition to the role of species composition in determining ecosystem functions and services, we will examine the effect of simultaneous environmental changes (nitrogen deposition and weed invasion) on our chosen functions and services, particularly since the presence of exotics creates potentially novel ecosystem states. Our experiment will allow us to understand more about how combinations of plant species, and their associated traits, can be utilized to intervene and manage ecosystems to ensure capacity for ongoing function and service provision in the Anthropocene. In terms of theory, we are also interested in whether the provision of multiple ecosystem functions requires greater biodiversity than provision of single services, if there are tradeoffs among services as diversity levels increase, and how the traits of included species affect functioning.

York gum only plot (January 2011)

Participants and potential for collaboration. Participants include: Mike Perring, Kris Hulvey, Rachel Standish, Lori Lach, Tim Morald, Rebecca Parsons and Richard Hobbs. The study provides a platform for the investigation of a wide variety of ecologically and socially important questions, and we encourage interested parties to contact us should they wish to collaborate or conduct trials at the site.

Contact: Mike Perring, School of Plant Biology, University of Western Australia; Tel: +61 (0)8 6488 4692; Email: michael.perring@uwa.edu.au