Ecological monitoring helps us manage our reserves and build a bank of knowledge about their natural values.
Long-term ecological monitoring helps us to better manage our reserves by providing information about their condition and how this may change over time. It is a core component of Conservation Standards, a set of principles and practices TLC uses to adaptively manage our reserves. We establish baseline surveillance monitoring across all our reserves, to give us information about the condition of our key conservation targets, which include vegetation communities and fauna and flora assemblages (i.e. carnivorous mammals or threatened orchids). However, we also undertake question-driven research on key conservation targets at many of our reserves to answer specific management questions, both with research partners and within the TLC Conservation Science and Planning team.
Our baseline ecological monitoring data give us high-level knowledge about the condition of the TLC’s reserve estate, including the impact of work that we do on our reserves, such as ecological burning or weed control. This information lets us objectively assess how well we are managing the reserves we seek to protect. It can also provide an early warning of threats, such as changes in feral animals, weeds, or disease distribution or density, so that we can act quickly and efficiently.
We use a range of technologies to help us undertake ecological monitoring across the TLC’s reserves. We monitor fauna using motion-sensor camera traps, leaving them in the landscape for a minimum of a month. Data from the images we collect gives us a measurement of native animals’ ‘naive occupancy’ (that is, the proportion of cameras on the reserve that record them) and their activity (number of detections per trap night). We are currently analysing our camera data (2014 onwards) from Five Rivers Reserve (11,000 ha) to assess the impact of the Great Pine Tier Fire in 2019 (across 5,000 ha of the reserve), focussing on the response of our native mammals and feral species. Anecdotally the activity data shows that fallow deer spiked in number post-fire, while feral cats remained at a similar level to pre-fire.
The TLC is constantly assessing and improving our monitoring. Our baseline vegetation monitoring now includes a vegetation transect that incorporates structure and cover, photopoints, and a modified digital vegetation condition assessment to allow us to compare the condition of our sites again state-wide baselines.
Over coming years we’ll focus on assessing the value of our different vegetation monitoring components are we collecting data that is fit for purpose (can answer our questions) in a way that is efficient to implement across our ever-increasing reserve estate? This change in methods to capture vegetation structure, cover and composition has been vital at the Vale of Belvoir Reserve, where our active fire management program to manage threatened vegetation communities, fauna and flora is a constant balance. We monitor vegetation at fixed photo-points, where we take repeat photos at regular intervals to detect changes in the landscape.
Other techniques include remote sensing technologies such as satellite imagery and LIDAR which we use to monitor larger scale changes in the landscape that could affect our reserves and neighbouring areas. These technologies allow us to understand the impact of widespread processes such as climate change, land clearing or bushfires.
In recent years we have also started to introduce acoustic monitoring as part of our standard ecological monitoring at each reserve. Sound recordings allow us to detect and monitor birds, frogs and insects, as well as recording environmental events such as rain and wind. We are developing reference libraries of the calls of different species. These libraries will eventually be used to develop automatic recognition software, to efficiently analyse the huge amounts of data generated by these detectors. Our new song meters are collecting acoustic information now, in preparation for a system for analysing the data.
To get involved in our ecological monitoring program, visit our volunteering page and register your interest.
Banner image: TLC Conservation Ecologist Rowena Hamer conducting flora monitoring with volunteers at the Vale of Belvoir Reserve. Photo: Phill Laroche