Optimising knowledge capture in biodiversity assessments
One of the focus areas under the Biodiversity Survey Node of our Research Priorities Plan is the application of technologies to promote faster and more cost effective biodiversity assessments. A main driver relates to the lack of adequate biodiversity data across large areas of the State to inform land management decisions, and the high cost of traditional approaches to biodiversity survey.
A systematic approach to biodiversity surveys in Western Australia was developed in 1969 to understand the biological nature of the state. In 1977 a coordinated across-agency approach to biological surveys began. This approach grew into a systematic state-wide bio-geography survey program in the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions and its predecessors, until 2017.
Reflecting on more than 50 years of knowledge gathered from systematic biodiversity surveys in Western Australia, The Western Australian Biodiversity Science Institute has posed the question: “What is the vision of biodiversity knowledge that we want to achieve through surveys in the next 50 years for Western Australia?”
In response, we have embarked on the development of a ten-year Western Australian Biodiversity Survey Strategy.
There are a number of surveys of biodiversity completed for Western Australia at local, regional and bio-regional scales. Each year numerous biological studies are conducted either at a species level or broader community level, by government agencies both State and Commonwealth, academic institutions, natural resource management groups, non-government organisations, indigenous organisations (such as ranger programs), community groups and individuals in what is now broadly referred to as Citizen Science, and consulting ecologists, environmental practitioners and spatial scientists. The majority of surveys in Western Australia, both in terms of coverage and quantity, are conducted by environmental consultants engaged by resource companies and other development proponents for environmental assessment and planning purposes.
A strategic approach
The program aims to establish a strategic approach to biodiversity survey for the purposes of predicting and managing impacts, protecting and planning for conservation, and for determining and managing appropriate offsets.
Improving the knowledge of biodiversity composition, patterns and trends will also inform cumulative impact assessment. This builds on our ongoing work in Biodiversity Information Management, focused on the digital capture, use and sharing of data.
The Biodiversity Survey Program will look at how data can be collected more efficiently such as, through utilising new technologies, and how survey gaps can be addressed, to enable the measurement of cumulative impact.
There are two stages in the Biodiversity Survey Program:
- Discovery: comprising a knowledge review of literature and interviews with stakeholders, resulting in a discussion paper; and
- The preparation of a state-wide 10-year strategy document.
A Biodiversity Survey Working Group, chaired by Dr Stephen van Leeuwen, will guide the development of a survey strategy. Its aim is to determine the best way to survey and document Western Australia’s terrestrial biodiversity, and ensure that knowledge is kept up-to-date.
The Biodiversity Survey Working Group comprises representatives from State Government, industry and non-government organisations with knowledge, expertise and experience in biodiversity survey.
A series of workshops will be undertaken with end users, researchers, regulators, and policy makers to help identify existing biological surveys available in digital format and determine potential future biological survey targets.