|Vast lands and variable data|
Vast lands and variable data: systematic analyses to understand the patterns and processes of mammal decline
Australia has the unenviable record of the highest rate of mammal extinctions in the world. There is increasing concern that there is a new wave of extinction imminent in Australia, with scattered data and anecdotal reports suggesting that the mammals northern Australia are particularly at risk. The causes of these extinctions have been much debated, and it is possible that many factors contributed, but there is strong evidence that predation by introduced red foxes and cats was the primary cause in the majority of cases; however this is intertwined with circumstances of changed fire regimes, and extensive, long term cattle grazing, and there is strong evidence that these factors exacerbate declines. For example, monitoring in places such as Kakadu National Park shows dramatic recent falls in the abundance and species-richness of mammals, without a single clear cause. Elsewhere mammal populations have recovered with the removal of cattle grazing and repatriation of pre-European fire regime. What is lacking from an Australian perspective is a coherent synthesis of the hypotheses and causes of small mammal population pattern, a thorough evaluation of all existing data, and a systematic meta-analysis of all the evidence of different effects. Without this well targeted management, policy and restoration actions are not possible. This project will: (a) systematically collate, review and analyse all available data; (b) re-evaluate existing hypotheses of decline and formulate new hypotheses for testing with the data available; (c) apply traditional and novel methods of analysis of disparate data sets of varying quality and varying temporal and spatial scales in the light of new hypotheses; and (d) define new policy and management actions for government and community.
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The first meeting of fourteen participants at the ACEAS rooms in Brisbane comprised 5 intensive days of data review, hypothesis generation, and planning for re-analysis of data to test new ideas about the causes of mammal decline. Key participants were Professor Chris Johnson, one of Australia’s most eminent mammal ecologists and author of 50 000 years of Mammal Extinctions, Dr Sarah Legge the National Conservation Manager of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, an organisation with keen focus on mammal conservation and reintroductions, and Dr Alaric Fisher from the Northern Territory government, whose long term monitoring in Kakadu drew attention to troubling signs of mammal decline in northern Australia.
New techniques for developing critical thinking and mapping ideas and hypothesis were utilised through the software bCisive, assisted by Dr Tim van Gelder from Austhink. Though such concentrated work is gruelling at times, the opportunity to spend 5 clear days in a room full of experts in the field of ecology and conservation was a unique opportunity that is rarely afforded to researchers and can only be provided by funding agencies such as ACEAS. All participants were unanimous in agreement that the meeting was a resounding success and provided new insight and an impetus to tackle mammal conservation issue afresh.
The outcomes at the end of the first working group were exciting and included the development of a continent-wide data base to explicitly re-test the intrinsic and extrinsic correlates of decline, create species distribution models based on weather and environmental factors and a temporal meta-analysis to examine historical causes and synchronicity in the patterns of change. Dr Nicky Thurgate (Dept SEWPC) will be working closely with the researchers to ensure that the outcomes are relevant for policy and management objectives and this is a significant component of the project. The second workshop to be held in June 2011 will draw the same participants together but also include some delegates from overseas expert in North American and European mammal conservation research. These new perspectives will enhance some of the more parochial views of the issue.
ACEAS workshop 2, (June 13th – 17th 2011)
Vast Lands and Variable Data FINAL REPORT available for download
|Last Updated on Monday, 20 August 2012 15:48|