Ecological Health Monitoring

© Brad Leue/AWC

 

Estimated Bilby population within the feral cat-free area at Scotia (representing one of the largest remaining populations).

 

Population of Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens along Annie Creek at Mornington (up from 125 12 years ago).

 

Total number of feral herbivores removed from across AWC sanctuaries in 2018

AWC’s EcoHealth monitoring program measures and reports on the status and trend of species, ecological processes and threats at each of our sanctuaries. Our staff in the field measure a range of different indicators – from populations of threatened species, to the extent of wildfires and the distribution of weeds. 

The indicators chosen reflect our best understanding of the species present, their interactions with environmental factors, and threatening processes. Our ‘scorecard’ reporting also includes activity metrics, in addition to figures such as the number of feral animals removed, the total area subject to prescribed burning, and the number of weeds removed.  

At Scotia in western NSW for example, AWC ecologists conduct regular surveys to generate estimates of the total population of Numbats, Bilbies, and Burrowing Bettongs within the feral-free fenced area. Each of these species is nationally threatened with extinction, and the populations at Scotia are critical to their survival and recovery.

By measuring reintroduced (and naturally occurring) populations at regular intervals, AWC’s monitoring program aims to identify the ecological return on investing in practical conservation – i.e. spending x dollars on predator-exclusion fencing results in y increase in the population of Bilbies. Monitoring also enables us to identify any declines in species populations, which may prompt a revision of management strategies. 

At our sanctuaries in the Kimberley, AWC scientists map and analyse fire patterns each year, so we can determine the extent of both prescribed burns and uncontrolled wildfires, and investigate trends over time. This complex data is distilled into a selection of the most informative metrics (e.g. the proportion of the sanctuary burnt in the late dry season, when fires tend to be more intense, thorough, and extensive). Over many years, this type of data has helped AWC land managers hone their approach to fire management across the Kimberley, and northern Australia more broadly.

In each case, the information generated is compiled into an Ecological Health Scorecard – a concise snapshot of the overall condition of the sanctuary. Data generated from ecological health monitoring can also be combined with research projects to explain why biodiversity indicators are increasing or decreasing. For example, in the Pilliga, AWC is proposing an embedded research project which will quantify the ecological benefits of removing feral animals and reintroducing small mammals.  

AWC’s commitment to measuring ecological health is part of an approach to conservation that strives to integrate world-class science with the delivery of practical and cost- effective land management. It is a formula that helps deliver a strong ecological return on investment.