TREND's Terrestrial Ecosystems transect has been bolstered by the addition of 23 bushland condition monitoring sites, taking the network to a total of 150 long-term plots. The new sites were established in 2006–7 as part of the Australian Government-funded BushBids – Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges program, for which sites were assessed against benchmarks as part of an auction for biodiversity stewardship (O'Connor et al. 2008). The initial assessment involved the Bushland Condition Monitoring method (Croft et al. 2009), a user-friendly method used in South Australia to score attributes like plant diversity, ground cover and faunal habitat attributes. Patrick O'Connor – Principle Consultant of O'Connor NRM, Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide and TREND Affiliate – has been involved with the project and sites since the outset. "The sites were established to assess the quality of remnant vegetation and the management required before management funding was offered to private landholders through a reverse auction", says Patrick. "The assessments were made to allow ongoing monitoring of vegetation change".
The sites are located on the eastern side of the Mount Lofty Ranges and onto the adjacent plains. They include disturbed, managed and reference sites on public land and in conservation reserves. Historically, this region was heavily cleared for agriculture, with only token reserves of native vegetation remaining and the condition of those remnants, including nationally threatened communities, is not pristine.
Annie Bond, PhD Candidate at the University of Adelaide and TREND Affiliate, has recently re-visited a subset of some 33 of the original 140 sites, some of which were also revisited in 2010-11, to assess change in condition and habitat parameters, using the same methodology. Annie reports that: "This is a rare opportunity to find out what’s happening to native vegetation and whether we can measure any changes in response to long term management." Twenty-three of these sites have since been incorporated into the TREND network of long-term monitoring sites thanks to the cooperation and enthusiasm of many landholders, including two district councils and 12 private owners.
The inclusion of these sites in TREND has several advantages. The sites replicate a cool-wet to warm-dry climatic gradient along a west-east axis, complementing the existing north-south transect design, and extend TREND into managed landscapes. While TREND benefits from rich data already collected, incorporation enables long-term revisits and data storage for sites which may otherwise have become orphaned. There is potential to detect long-term changes in tree demography, carbon storage and plant biodiversity across landscapes and management influences, contrasting with surveillance monitoring focused on 'natural' tracts of bushland. Transect Leader, Greg Guerin, is excited about the prospects, although cautious regarding typically short-term funding for ecological monitoring activities. "With long-term sampling of the BushBids sites, we will be able to assess how broader landscape factors and climate change are influencing smaller populations of native flora. We can also measure how remnant woodlands such as these support ecosystem services and populations of useful invertebrates such as ants and bees."
Croft, S, Pedler, JA & Milne (2009) Bushland condition monitoring manual : Murray Darling Basin, South Australia. Nature Conservation Society of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia.
O’Connor P., Morgan A. and Bond A. (2008) BushBids: Biodiversity Stewardship in the Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges, South Australia.
Photo credit: Annie Bond (2016). Grassy woodland vegetation at one of the monitoring locations in the eastern Mount Lofty Ranges, South Australia.