The Significant Projects are part of the Australian Government’s $100 million Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities (CERF) initiative. CERF Significant Projects address a more narrowly defined area of interest and are undertaken within a single institution or by a limited number of collaborating partners. These Significant Projects advance our understanding of current and emerging challenges facing the conservation and use of our environmental assets.
Ten Significant Projects have been funded. They have been allocated a total of $8.2 million (incl GST) over three years.
- Predicting and monitoring climate change in insects: from genes to distribution shifts ($0.75 million). Principal researcher: Professor Ary Hoffmann, University of Melbourne.
The project uses genetic markers as a powerful means of monitoring the early impacts of climate change on species distributions and abundances and identifying such groups. It also uses these mechanistic models to predict the likely spread of the dengue fever transmission vector, Aedes aegypti, under climate change. The project is identifying key mosquito traits that determine its distribution and evaluates the potential for evolution to change these traits and further expand the Ae. aegypti distribution. This will lead to the discovery of genes indicative of adaptive potential well beyond the experimental system proposed. The approach developed will serve as a template for predicting changes in disease vectors and agricultural pests. It also serves as a template for rapid genetic approaches in screening threatened species.
- Volunteer monitoring of the state of Australian rocky reef communities ($0.81 million). Principal researcher: Dr Graham Edgar, University of Tasmania.
An urgent need exists to document coastal biodiversity in a systematic way. Huge changes are occurring in inshore habitats due to fishing, sedimentation, coastal development, pollution, climate change, and species introductions; however, very little reliable information exists on the scale and consequences of these threats. Such information is particularly crucial to management agencies if they are to act most appropriately in allocation of resources and in decision making. This project is developing and resourcing a network of skilled recreational divers who can rapidly and cost-effectively assess the state of the inshore marine environment at the continental scale using standardised methods.
- Using tree rings of an Australian conifer as a bio-indicator of decadal-scale environmental change ($0.80 million). Principal researcher: Professor David Bowman, University of Tasmania.
Ecological responses to climate change remain very uncertain, especially in outback Australia. This project is studying the population growth of an Australia-wide native conifer(Callitris columellaris). Field surveys, tree ring measurements and stable isotopic analyses will: (i) chronicle historical patterns of landscape change; (ii) rank the importance of land-use and climate in driving these changes; (iii) improve understanding of the ecology of the ‘greenhouse effect’, thus assisting national carbon accounting; and (iv) create new climate data for the last 200+ years, significantly adding to sparse climate records, and the understanding of past climate variability and extreme events in outback Australia.
- Sustainable farms: future pathways for rural landscapes ($0.91 million). Principal researcher: Professor Stephen Dovers, Australian National University.
Sustainable Farms focuses on the long-term ecological integrity and productivity of rural landscapes, adding policy and social dimensions to innovative ecological research. The project is interdisciplinary and applied and is investigating the (1) ecological sustainability of alternative farming approaches, (2) viability of alternative policy and institutional options, and (3) congruence of these with the values held by key stakeholders. Unlike most current thinking, the focus is on the multi-decadal spans of key social and ecological processes. The new insights generated will be directly relevant to the development of policy innovations.
- INFFER: INvestment Framework For Environmental Resources ($1.43 million). Principal researcher: Professor David Pannell, University of Western Australia.
This project is about bridging science, economics and policy for improved environmental management. The research will advise policy makers and environmental managers on investment strategies to maximise public net benefits from program expenditures, including policy mechanism choice and the prioritisation of investments. The focus is be on water quality, biodiversity, and pest plants and animals. The project complements (and works with) CERF hubs by providing a policy focus, and by strengthening their access to economic and social expertise.
- Determining watering regimes to protect floodplains under hyper-drought conditions ($1.13 million). Principal researcher: Dr Darren Baldwin, Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre.
Floodplains in semi-arid regions rely on periodic floods to maintain soil health - a key driver of ecosystem condition. River regulation and over-extraction of water resources has limited the frequency of small to medium floods, imposing a long-term artificial drought regime that has substantially impacted on floodplain condition. Because these floodplains are already stressed due to low soil moisture, they become more susceptible to drought-induced degradation than they would be under natural flow regimes (hence the term 'hyper-drought'). This project is aimed at determining critical thresholds for maintaining soil health and ecological function. The knowledge generated can be used as ecological targets for restoration of these degraded ecosystems, and is of critical importance in the face of climate change.
- Improving economic accountability when using decentralised, collaborative approaches to environmental decisions ($0.44 million). Principal researcher: Dr Graham Marshall, University of New England.
Decentralised approaches to environmental governance emphasising collaboration between interested parties have become popular in Australia in recent years. These approaches recognise that the social-ecological systems of concern are typically complex adaptive systems, rather than mechanistic systems amenable to conventional benefit-cost analysis. Nevertheless, economic accountability in these approaches remains vital for ensuring available resources are allocated optimally. This project focuses on the social and economic aspects of our environment particularly benefit cost analysis issues (BCA), and governance of the commons, and uses action research involving key local environmental decision-makers and end-users. The research is identifying, testing and will propose cost-effective methods for enhancing economic scrutiny of collaborative environmental decisions.
- Optimising weed risk management investment through improved spatial distribution and benefit cost analysis modelling ($0.50 million). Principal researcher: Dr Samantha Setterfield, Charles Darwin University, Darwin.
Weed management informed by an assessment of risk is recognized as best practice in Australia. While the adoption of a risk assessment based approach provides a strategic framework for mitigating the threats posed by weeds, optimal performance of such frameworks is limited by two key knowledge gaps: decision support tools for assessing benefit-cost and the ability to model potential distribution and weed spread. Both of these deficiencies reduce the ability of natural resource managers to make informed decisions about the risk posed by different weeds and hence to prioritise investment in weed management. This project is one of four linked projects that form a program of R&D activities to develop the decision support tools needed to address these gaps. The alignment with a national WRM approach and links to existing regional and cross-jurisdictional R&D ensures that outputs from this project is relevant and will have excellent end-user uptake.
- Climate futures for Tasmania: prospects, impacts and information for adaptation options ($1.23 million). Principal researcher: Professor Nathan Bindoff, Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems CRC.
Climate Futures for Tasmania is informing diverse stakeholders about likely impacts of climate change on conditions that are important for their decision making and operations. It is producing fine scale (~10-15 km resolution) climate projections for Tasmania under a range of accepted greenhouse emission scenarios. Outputs will be tailored to produce information stipulated by stakeholders to be most important to their activities. Analyses is focussed in three main areas of climate futures: a) water status in catchments and reservoirs; b) normal, average climate conditions; and c) extreme events, including high winds, flooding, and coastal inundation.
- Order with and without law: understanding perceptions and attitudes towards formal and informal controls of environmental resource transgressions ($0.23 million). Principal researcher: Dr Elaine Barclay, University of New England.
Environmental benefits are threatened, and dire environmental risks posed, by high land clearance rates and the theft or misuse of water resources in Australia. Criminalisation of unauthorised clearance of native vegetation or extraction or misuse of water has been met by non-compliance and active social resistance. A survey of farmers and case studies in Queensland, NSW and Victoria is identifying and comparing prevailing perceptions, social norms and informal sanctions pertaining to various environmental transgressions. The outcomes will provide a universal, best-practice model to guide future policy and programs (government and community) to bolster community capacity for self-governance of NRM issues.