Australia needs meaningful and consistent national information about its ecosystems to understand the status of our natural environments and detect change in these environments. We are looking at how we can better undertake national surveillance monitoring, to generate relevant information about our ecosystems at both regional and national scales. It’s designed to be a first step in enhancing our national surveillance monitoring capability.

There are three main themes of national ecosystem surveillance monitoring that address key gaps in Australia’s existing monitoring capabilities:

  1. Condition for biodiversity: developing a working definition of condition for biodiversity, along with a set of suggested attributes to be used in field monitoring

  2. Fauna: developing pragmatic and achievable standard protocols for on-ground plot-based monitoring of vertebrates (mammals, reptiles, and birds)

  3. Woodlands: developing a consistent national approach to fixed surveillance site monitoring of vegetation and soils in Australian woodlands.

What we achieved

Through its collaborative approach, as part of the NERP project, AusPlots engaged expert stakeholders within the research community, government agencies, NGOs and the private sector to contribute to the project and help build the foundation for a truly national approach to surveillance monitoring. A series of workshops were held in 2014 and 2015, focusing on condition (August and October 2014, Adelaide), fauna (February 2015, Sydney) and woodlands (March 2015, Hobart).

From the workshops, three protocols were developed, condition monitoring, woodlands and fauna survey. Each was designed to complement the existing AusPlots Rangelands vegetation and soils protocol. Each protocol was developed, refined through further consultation with key workshop attendees and consulted experts, and a draft candidate protocol manual developed. Field trials were conducted at Calperum Station (managed by the Australian Landscape Trust, and a TERN Supersite), enabling us to work across a range of ecosystem types to test the protocols in different settings. This was an incredibly fruitful exercise that helped us to further refine the protocols.


Fauna protocols workshop attendees: (from top left to bottom right) Glenda Wardle, Mike Fleming, Alex Kutt, Sam Luccitti, Mark Eldridge, Mark Cowan, Nikki Thurgate, Stephen van Leeuwen, Ben Sparrow, Peter Lyon, Eren Turak, Chris Dickman, Megan Barnes, Teresa Eyre, Peter Cale, Rebekah Christensen, David Armstron, Jeff Turpin, Sally O'Neill (Absent: Marcus Baseler).


We delivered a series of tested protocols, candidate draft manuals and supporting documents to the Department of the Environment in June 2015 at the completion of the funded project.

We also developed a (draft) national working definition of condition for biodiversity:

'Biodiversity condition is a relative measure of the status of the biota at an assessment site against a natural reference state, described by key attributes that reflect structure, function and composition for the relevant type'.

Development of this definition guided the selection of 15 essential attributes to assess biodiversity condition, and become the basis of the condition protocols:

  • age class

  • clearing

  • coarse woody debris

  • cover

  • fauna

  • fire

  • floristic composition

  • ground cover

  • land use

  • landscape configuration

  • phenology

  • soil functional characteristics

  • vegetation health

  • vegetation structure

  • woody cover.

Where to from here?

Have your input into the national biodiversity surveillance monitoring protocols and manuals

Development of the candidate protocols and draft manuals was just the first stage. Our goal is to ensure the protocols are relevant to a wide range of potential users, and that they are achievable. We now need to collaborate with a range of experts to further refine both the protocols and the manuals that explain how to implement them. To do this, we welcome our peers and the wider community to review the draft candidate manuals and contribute towards their progress. The draft candidate manuals are available to download:

If you would like to provide feedback on the draft manuals, please email Sally O'Neill.

In addition to refining the manuals, we also need to conduct further field trials in a range of environments to test the various field survey methods to ensure the data is collected in the most efficient and effective way, that it meets the needs of the protocols, and that it fits well with the overall mission of AusPlots and a national biodiversity surveillance monitoring.

To conduct the field trials, we need further funding. In the meantime, we will endeavor to further develop the protocols and manuals, so that when funding opportunities arise we have a widely accepted method ready to implement.

Supporting documents

Supporting documents prepared as part of the NERP project are also available: