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First ever national maps of Australia’s ecosystem

By on 28 March, 2018

Mapping a continent’s ecosystem is a complex business — and one for which disparate methodologies have been employed across Australian jurisdictions — until now.

The Terrestrial Ecosytem Research Network (TERN) and the University of Adelaide have published the first maps of Australia’s ecosystem to be consistent with international standards.

Ecosystem maps are a critical tool for land managers, informing management strategies for climate change mitigation, conservation, development planning and assessments of ecosystem services.

Approaches differ nation to nation, and between Australian states and territories, making it incredibly difficult to align land management strategies or even assess ecosystem health in one area relative to another that has been measured and mapped using a different set of indicators and methodologies.

TERN and the University of Adelaide have addressed this information gap with a new set of national maps that capture three major factors driving ecosystem formation—macroclimate, lithology and landform, with multiple spatial indicators for each.

Vegetation structure has also been mapped and combined with the three indicators of ecosystem formation to produce ‘ecological facets’—distinctive and unique ecological units.

The new national maps direct comparison of selected indicators across jurisdictions for the first time.

This work is part of a much bigger global project led by the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), a consortium of over 100 nations, including Australia, that seek to promote earth observation for for solving some of society’s most difficult problems.

“The ultimate goal of this work was the production of the ecological facets digital map,” said Dr. Ken Clarke of the University of Adelaide.

“These ecological facets allow for a better understanding of the current range of biophysical variation within and across Australian ecosystems. We anticipate, however, that for many applications the precursor spatial indicators will be more useful by themselves,” he said.

“While this is not the officially approved approach for Australia, it does build on IBRA [Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia] and NVIS [National Vegetation Information System] data provided by the Australia Government Department of Environment and Energy [DoEE].”

You can read the report on the GEOSS ecosystem mapping project [PDF] and access the data layers on ecosystem formation (macroclimate, lithology and landform), vegetation structure and ecological facets at TERN’s Landscape Assessment capability.

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