Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996
ISBN 0 6422 4427 8
4 - Improving our knowledge
Full and effective implementation of many of the actions identified in this Strategy requires considerable improvement in our knowledge and understanding of Australia's biological diversity in terrestrial, marine and other aquatic environments. Accordingly, there is a need for a significant increase in research into biological diversity at the genetic, species and ecosystems levels.
Many of the actions in this Strategy must be implemented now: we cannot wait until the full sum of knowledge becomes available from research programs. It is therefore essential that those actions be supported by research projects, so that the actions can be improved and assessed as new scientific knowledge is obtained.
Major research initiatives are required in the areas of compilation and assessment of existing knowledge, conservation biology, rapid assessment and inventory, long-term monitoring, and ethnobiology.
It is also essential that there be adequate mechanisms to ensure that the results of research are rapidly disseminated and rapidly incorporated into current and future actions.
Provide the knowledge and understanding of Australia's biological diversity essential for its effective conservation and management.
4.1.1 Compilation of current knowledge
Undertake to coordinate, collate and synthesise available data and information from collections, survey results and geographic information systems to provide a basis for assessing research needs and priorities. This will include knowledge held by industry (for example, from environmental impact assessments and rehabilitation activities), community groups, local government and experts. Particular attention should be given to:
- identifying components of biological diversity that are inadequately understood;
- identifying those components of biological diversity that are important for its conservation and sustainable use (see Objective 1.1);
- accelerating the activities of agencies and institutions involved in the development and networking of complementary environmental geographic information systems and databases and ensuring that there are adequate resources for the storage and maintenance of collections;
- developing and implementing, by the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council, mechanisms for the improvement of research and coordination and dissemination of information about biological diversity.
This is consistent with the governments' undertakings in the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development to cooperate in developing analysis and information technologies and systems for optimising the use of natural resource databases and to use these in pursuit of ecologically sustainable development.
4.1.2 Rapid assessment
Establish a joint Commonwealth and State and Territory program to carry out rapid assessment of Australia's biological diversity. This will include:
- strengthening the network of biological diversity laboratories and agencies to assist in the rapid processing of collected material;
- research into and development of new methods of processing large numbers of unidentified organisms;
- research into environmental and biological models and groups of organisms that may be used to assess biological diversity.
Rapid biological diversity assessment
Rapid biological diversity assessment uses a range of methods that facilitate rapid field survey work and classification. The fieldwork normally involves a multidisciplinary team, including experienced field scientists and people with local knowledge, in surveying component groups representative of biological diversity. Techniques and procedures are employed to quantify the variety of organisms collected by classifying them into recognisable taxonomic units. These techniques overcome the large time requirements of formal classification.
By establishing the relationship between these recognisable taxonomic units and the formal species they represent, rapid estimates of biological diversity will become available.
4.1.3 Management applications
Assist resource use industries to integrate the protection of biological diversity and other ecologically sustainable use objectives through:
- a nationally funded and coordinated program to advance the development of information and modelling tools;
- research into performance indicators against which to measure the adequacy of policy and management arrangements in achieving biological diversity conservation objectives for ecologically sustainable management;
- improving our understanding and management, as outlined for Objectives 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5 and 2.6.
4.1.4 Conservation biology
Support research in conservation biology, including ecology and physiology, aimed at maintaining biological diversity and identifying patterns of genetic variation within and between species. This will include multidisciplinary research covering:
- criteria for the identification and configuration of protected areas for the conservation of biological diversity;
- the interaction of protected areas with their surrounds;
- rehabilitation techniques (see Action 3.7.1);
- population biology;
- the establishment of national standards for use of genetic markers and probes in the assessment of variability and the identification of taxonomic units;
- the consequences of changed landscape patterns on populations, ecological processes and functions;
- palaeobiology and biological responses to environmental change.
Accelerate research into the taxonomy, geographic distribution and evolutionary relationships of Australian terrestrial, marine and other aquatic plants, animals and microorganisms, priority being given to the least known groups, including non-vascular plants, invertebrates and microorganisms. Where appropriate, methodologies should be standardised.
This can best be achieved by strengthening the role of the Australian Biological Resources Study, including an extension of the Study program to cover microorganisms. Resources available to Commonwealth and State and Territory institutions involved in taxonomic work and in the study of ecosystem and genetic diversity should also be maintained or enhanced.
The completion of a comprehensive inventory of Australia's ecosystems should be treated as a matter of urgency in research funding.
Facilitate and support the development of collaborative taxonomic training programs by existing institutions such as museums, herbariums and universities for:
- specialist taxonomists, particularly to work on inadequately studied groups;
- biological diversity technicians;
- members of the public and community organisations assisting in biological diversity projects.
Establish a national coordinated program of long-term ecological monitoring to document patterns of change or lack of change in order to establish a baseline for understanding the impact of such change or lack of it on natural communities, ecosystems and ecological processes, and to detect changes in biological diversity and their causes. The program will:
- combine remote sensing with a national network of secure field-based monitoring sites in representative habitats;
- develop and encourage the application of national monitoring protocols involving standardised sampling designs and techniques for testing management regimes and strategies, including rehabilitation and reintroductions;
- use biological diversity indicator groups to reveal the impacts of environmental disturbance;
- establish properly constituted and supported assessment panels or monitoring committees, or both, comprising representatives of industry, non-government conservation organisations, other appropriate community groups and governments;
- accelerate research into new, cost-effective methods of monitoring;
- integrate with an ecological research program aimed at improving our understanding of long-term and event-driven ecological processes.
4.1.8 Ethnobiological knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Recognise the value of the knowledge and practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and incorporate this knowledge and those practices in biological diversity research and conservation programs by:
- encouraging the recording (with the approval and involvement of the indigenous people concerned) of indigenous peoples' knowledge and practices;
- assessing the potential of this knowledge and these practices for nutritional and medicinal uses, wildlife and protected area management and other purposes;
- applying the knowledge and practices in ways that ensure equitable sharing of the benefits arising from their use.
4.1.9 Information: access, dissemination and use
Taking intellectual property rights into account, ensure that as information about Australia's biological diversity accumulates it is published and otherwise disseminated in ways readily accessible for national and regional planning, development, management and decision making, in both the private and public sectors, including through computer networks.
Ensure that the accumulated information is used to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of current management, to meet the objectives of ecologically sustainable use of biological diversity, including its protection.