The University of Adelaide

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Simon Wade Baxter and Daniel Sapko-Uni of Adelaide.jpg

TERN Ecosystem Surveillance works closely with researchers from The University of Adelaide. Currently, honours student Daniel Sapko supervised by Dr Simon Baxter from the Department of Genetics and Evolution, School of Biological Sciences, is utilising our metagenomic samples collected from 90 plots across Australia. This project aims to identify novel isolates of Bacillus thuringiensis from soil samples collected across Australia by the AusPlots network. Bacillus thuringiensis is a gram positive bacteria, that can contain plasmids encoding toxin genes. During sporulation, toxins are expressed in high numbers and form crystalline inclusions. Hundreds of different toxins have been described and they are often highly specific to targeted pests. Discovery of novel toxins will provide new opportunities for pest control.

Australian SuperSites Network

AusPlots works closely with the Australian SuperSites Network (TERN SuperSites) to deliver open data on Australia’s terrestrial ecosystems. A SuperSite is a highly instrumented intensive ecosystem observatory, located in one of Australia’s many iconic biomes, set up to examine environmental status and processes over decadal time frames. TERN SuperSites are vastly improving our scientific understanding of how these key Australian biomes are responding to environmental change (climate, fire, pollution, invasive species).


Core monitoring conducted at a SuperSite includes intensive measurements of the physical, chemical, environmental and biological components of ecosystems using instrumentation (microclimate, bore, stream, phenocam, acoustic sensors and eddy covariance flux stations (TERN OzFlux)) and classical field methods (vegetation/fauna surveys, soil characterisation, plant physiological measurements). TERN SuperSites embed AusPlots Rangelands vegetation and soil survey methods within their core protocols and a number of AusPlots plots are co-located or in the vicinity of the SuperSites core vegetation plots. 

Desert Ecology Research Group

Glenda Wardle and Chris Dickman from the Desert Ecology Research Group (DERG), University of Sydney, and LTERN have been collaborating with AusPlots since 2014.  Glenda says, 'By co-locating 15 AusPlots within our 8000km2 study site in the Simpson Desert there is an unprecedented opportunity to detect and understand changes in productivity over space and time. 'Our work combines long-term observations with manipulations to disentangle the multiple drivers of the system, including rainfall, fire, grazing and ferals. We will be remeasuring these AusPlots and synthesising the results with our own data to address pressing issues of increased environmental changes land-managers are facing.'

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

We are currently collaborating with the FAO on the Global Drylands Assessment, a project to determine the amount of forest occurring in Drylands across the globe. Initial results indicate that there are significant areas of Forest occurring in dryland areas that were not previously known. We’re also working collaboratively on the Global Forest Survey to contribute our expertise on standardised data collection and methods, and along with our colleagues in TERN Eco-informatics to provide data systems to support this global field based initiative

Morton Arboretum

We are collaborating with researchers at the Morton Arboretum in Chicago to more extensively test our innovative photopoints method and the subsequent analysis of tree basal area we calculate from the imagery. Our method was devised, built and tested in Australia primarily in open Eucalypt and Acacia woodlands. The collaboration with Morton Arboretum will enable us to train our algorithms to a variety of North American environments.

Bush Blitz

Bush Blitz is Australia’s largest nature discovery project, working to document the plants and animals in hundreds of properties across Australia’s National Reserve System. The project provides important baseline scientific data that helps us understand and better manage our biodiversity - already the BushBlitz surveys have discovered approximately 600 new and undescribed species! The AusPlots Rangelands sites and methodology form a key component of the BushBlitz approach, and add to the suite of BushBlitz surveys and information that help to paint a comprehensive picture of Australia’s biodiversity.

Department of Agriculture

AusPlots have worked closely with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) to deliver field data for the ‘Ground Cover Monitoring for Australia’ project, which adds to a national network of over 1500 site observations collected by state and territory agencies. Through this collaboration, we were able to work together in the development of the AusPlots method to ensure AusPlots’ site data can be used to help validate the national ground cover maps produced.


We have also produced a specialised version of our field app tailored for ABARES’ needs. This work enhances our national capabilities for assessing land management practices, monitoring progress towards environmental targets, and ultimately the sustainable management of landscapes. While the current collaboration is focussed on ground cover monitoring in the rangelands, we hope to expand the work to address other land-management issues in future.

You can read more about this collaboration here and here.

Rockefeller University, New York

We are working with researchers at the Rockefeller University in New York to understand the biological complexity of the soils we collect across Australia. We’re providing ecological data along with the soil samples, assisting with the analysis of the ecological information, and assisting the researchers to understand how the results relate to the biological information we have collected.

Therapeutic Innovations Australia

AusPlots recently initiated a collaboration with the Eskitis Institute for Drug Discovery at Griffith University. The Eskitis Institute houses Compounds Australia Nature Bank, a facility of the Therapeutic Innovations Australia NCRIS Facility that allows for the deposit of natural compounds into a central repository and is used by researchers in the pharmaceutical, food, beverage and cosmetics industries. AusPlots is investigating the possibility of depositing some of its dried soil samples and targeted vegetation collections into the facility. Current collaborative work centers around appropriate collection and storage techniques to be used for sample preservation. The vast quantity of ecological data and AusPlots' standardised methods of work, associated with the sampling sites, are seen as a benefit to researchers intending to use the samples. It is likely that AusPlots and the Eskitis Insitute will share students in the future in holistic projects where the students are involved with sample collection (including the collection of associated ecological data) as well as processing samples through to the isolation of potentially interesting compounds.

Prof Joanna Bullard, Loughborough University, UK

'Cyanobacterial crusts on soil surfaces play an important role in stabilising the soil against wind erosion and also storage of nutrients, but they are difficult to measure with the naked eye and so often overlooked in rangeland surveys. We have been developing ways of measuring crust cover for research purposes and are keen to ensure that these methods are tested and become available for land managers. We are very excited to be collaborating with AusPlots to explore the potential for incorporating our method in to the field survey app especially because the AusPlots standardised methodology is so widely used across Australia. Users of the AusPlots methodology will benefit from being able to measure an additional important variable, and we will benefit from learning more about how cyanobacteria cover varies across the country'

- Prof Joanna Bullard

Further information is available in the TERN newsletter article An app to map cyanobacteria crusts for soil management.

Pilbara Corridors

Pilbara Corridors is a coordinated approach to address biodiversity threats on a landscape scale in the Pilbara. It works at a landscape scale and across management boundaries by bringing together people and organisations with environmental expertise representing government, environment, community, mining, pastoralists and Indigenous groups to deliver effective land management. In 2015 the Pilbara Corridors project is initiating AusPlots sites in the Fortescue catchment as part of a monitoring contribution to the national rangelands landscape. The AusPlots rangelands methodology is ideal for this purpose because it is a nationally standardised and agreed approach. Pilbara Corridors Program Manager Ian Cotton said 'the decision to implement AusPlots sites was made as they align and will assist with the current project’s environmental drivers of preservation and conservation of endemic vegetation, and reducing threats to biodiversity. The sites collectively will help identify spatial and temporal changes within sites and between sites as biological and non-biological influences come into play.' For more information please visit the Pilbara Corridors website

Australian National Herbarium

'From our point of view, TERN AusPlots material is significant and valuable for a number of reasons. Quite apart from the fact that it allows us to further develop the collections of the Australian National Herbarium, the material is important because it is frequently from areas that are not well collected botanically, and has excellent, high-quality metadata (locality and habitat information especially). Additionally, all material has been identified by skilled botanists familiar with the vegetation of the particular area from which the material was collected, which means that identifications are robust and reliable. Overall, this material provides a valuable addition to not only the ANH, but Australia’s national biological collections as a whole, and I look forward to receiving more material in due course!'


- Brendan Lepschi, Curator, Australian National Herbarium

Further information is available on the TERN website.


'Our work with TERN AusPlots involves publishing their rich, Australia-wide, surveillance monitoring data in our ÆKOS data portal. AusPlots data is collected using methods that are a national standard and very well-described. The quality of the methods and other descriptions enabled us to save substantially on the resources that are usually expended in ingesting data into ÆKOS. The high quality of AusPlots data has stimulated further work with the facility.  In particular, we have used AusPlots data with environmental layers and biodiversity data from the Atlas of Living Australia to build an incubator visualisation tool for ÆKOS called Soils to Satellites. Best of all, we have been able to engage with AusPlots' ready-made community to test this web application – another saving of time and effort for us'.  

- Craig Walker, Director, TERN’s Eco-informatics Facility


eMAST (the Ecosystem Modelling and Scaling Infrastructure) is a facility of TERN, dedicated to harmonisation of TERN data sets for use by the modelling community. This involves the integration of data into software applications (i.e. data assimilation), evaluating and optimising ecosystem models. Together, eMAST and AusPlots have initiated two new highly interactive collaboration projects:

  1. eMAST and AusPlots will use observations of the leaf stable carbon isotope ratio of woody species in Australia’s semi-arid environments to understand and better predict it continentally. The project uses data from regions in central Australia with strong temperature and rainfall gradients, as well as different altitudes, across a wide range of ecosystems. The combination of observations from a wide range of altitudes and climatic gradients provided by AusPlots, together with eMAST’s technical and compute-intensive infrastructure allows for a thorough analysis and the simultaneous use of multiple data streams at different spatial and temporal scales.
  2. The project “Ecophysiological measurements: the missing link between vegetation modeling, biodiversity and ecosystem function” is another key collaboration between the facilities. Researchers from eMAST and AusPlots are measuring growth parameters on plants using the results to reduce uncertainty in terrestrial ecosystem models. Combining field data and ecosystem models considerably contributes to an improved understanding of the response of ecosystems to environmental change and helps to align abstract ecological conditions in models with real conditions in real ecosystems.