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This newsletter brings mixed tidings. On the positive side is the continuing output of high-quality products as the results of ACEAS intervention, which you can see throughout the ACEAS web site.

This newsletter brings mixed tidings. On the positive side is the continuing output of high-quality products as the results of ACEAS intervention, which you can see throughout the ACEAS web site.
 
Since the last newsletter, one of the major tasks for the whole ACEAS team has been to provide material for the mid-term review, which was certainly rigorous. As any program should be, we have been consistent in our evaluation practice on many levels, and this stood us in good stead. Thankyou to all those who responded to requests for comment and feedback. Richard Price, one of the two investigators, has an article in this newsletter, and makes some comments both within the Review and in his newsletter article about future directions for ACEAS.
 
We have learnt a lot over the few years we have been in existence, and recently it has been the processes required to assist the teams produce outcome of relevance and value to the wider community. Publications in refereed journals are of acknowledged value, but of what value are outputs such as data delivery, and fact sheets such as the final reports and the web site narratives? Some of this I found out on my recent trip to organisations in the UK after INTECOL (see article later in this newsletter). I visited and/or gave presentations at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology at Wallingford and Lancaster, the James Hutton Institute (where Iain Gordon, a member of the ACEAS Advisory Panel, is Director), to the School of Biology at Leeds and at the Silwood Park campus of Imperial College where, as well as giving a seminar, I caught up with Rob Ewers of the new Tansley Groups. Thank you to all the hosts of these visits. I gained lots of information for both ACEAS and TERN.
 
Around the same time, Siddeswara Guru attended a TRY Workshop in Leipzig, Germany, which was hosted by the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) with support from DIVERSITAS and Max Plank Institute for Biogeochemistry. He had an opportunity to interact with sDiv and CESAB staff and share some of the experiences of TERN and ACEAS.
 
The short-term
At the end of this month a group of synthesis centre staff from around the world will be attending a short workshop held at CESAB’s rooms in France to reflect on synthesis centre practice, and there are several working group meetings in the offing (LINK to table at end of newsletter).
 
The mid-term
ACEAS will be having an interruption in its call for new working groups for 18 months or so, subject to us finding additional funding. We have pretty good demonstration of proof of concept, which was part of the aim of the initial federal and Queensland government funding, so we are in a good position, especially if you all keep producing outcomes that “could not have been achieved otherwise”, that makes a difference to research and management practice, and so on. Of course we are not in a unique situation, but I think the efficiency of synthesis centres is a pretty good marketing tool. We shall continue to ensure achievement of the goals of existing groups is facilitated, so if we convey a sense of urgency, then please understand.
 
To quote Stuart Phinn, the TERN Associate Science Director, “ACEAS is and will continue to be a critical component of TERN, especially its links from science to policy and management of Australia's ecosystems. The next year will see a coordinated effort to strengthen and build upon all of TERN's activities to position us for obtaining significant and recurrent long-term funds beyond 2014. This activity is across all of TERN's Facilities and will be strengthened by the integration and synthesis provided by ACEAS - so please keep that in mind with how we think about going forward collectively in this space."
 
Best wishes,
 
Alison Specht
 


A summary of this year’s ACEAS Grand Workshop

Freshwater ecology was the focus of this year’s ACEAS Grand Workshop, held on the 19th-21st June in Brisbane. The workshop brought together 22 leading aquatic scientists and policy makers from academia, research institutions and government departments, all of whom had participated in ACEAS working groups related to freshwater ecology.
 
Building on the work of nine ACEAS working groups (see list below-hyperlink), the Grand Workshop provided the opportunity for participants to share their findings and collaborate to address important issues in freshwater ecology.
 
Professor Jenny Davis from Monash University, who is now leading the group to produce the Grand Workshop products, said that although climate change was one of the major themes for the workshop, the group decided to focus their discussion on the impacts of global land use intensification on freshwater ecosystems.
 
“Even though climate change has been a dominant issue for many of us, when we actually sat down and discussed how we think that might play out, we decided that the parallel issue of increasing global population requiring more food and more water was where we needed to focus our attention,” explained Jenny.
 


Left to right: Michael Digby (Northern Gulf Resource Management Group), Anthony O’Grady (CSIRO), David Hohnberg (Murray Darling Basin Authority), Samantha Capon (Griffith University), Liz Saxon (Tony Charters & associates, facilitator), Ivan Nagelkerken (Adelaide University), Stephen (Harry) Balcombe (Griffith University), Allan Dale (James Cook University), Tim Page (Griffith University), Nick Bond (Griffith University), Brian Fry (Griffith University), Robyn Watts (Charles Sturt University), Angela Arthington (Griffith University), Rhys Whitley (TERN eMAST), Jenny Davis (Monash University), Bradley Evans (TERN eMAST), Reid Tingley (University of Melbourne), Trent Penman (University of Wollongong), Jim Thomson (Monash University), Patrick Driver (NSW Office of Water), Peter Gell (University of Ballarat), Michelle Casanova (Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne), Max Finlayson (Charles Sturt University).
 
"The ACEAS Grand Workshop was unique in that is brought together a group of people who wouldn’t normally come together”, said Jenny. “There was enough diversity within the group to really be able to think beyond our immediate individual research areas."
 
The workshop participants are currently writing a paper titled ‘Intensification: a global trend with implications for freshwater ecology’, which they are aiming to submit to a major ecological or environmental journal. A sub-group plans to collaborate on implications for freshwater ecosystems of a wetter future associated with climate change.
 
In addition, the group is writing a text for management and government, and are also looking at where the research priorities for freshwater ecology in Australia should lie.
 
The participants intend for the outcomes of the workshop to influence research and management of Australia’s freshwater ecosystems. “The fact that we’ve just undergone a major change in federal government means that it is timely for us to release the workshop outcomes within the next 3 to 6 months,” said Jenny.
 
Overall, Jenny found the ACEAS Grand Workshop to be a great learning experience. “To get that mix of people who all come to an agreement on an important issue to tackle and also that volunteer to be involved in going forward with putting to document together was a very productive, exciting and enjoyable experience.”
 
A note to all ACEAS Grand Workshop participants – we’ll be looking for your contributions in the coming weeks to work on completing the products.
 
The ACEAS & TERN groups represented at the Grand Workshop were:
 
Adaptation pathways for aquatic plants under climate change: facilitating dispersal and management interventions
 
Developing ecologically meaningful metrics to advance environmental flow ecology
 
Extinction risk of frogs under climate change
 
Falling productivity as a constraint on native fish abundance
 
Improving predictions of drought-induced mortality and its consequence for Net Primary Production in Australian forests
 
Integrated catchment to coast planning: data, decision support and governance
 
Local to national - the capacity for increasing the spatial scale of monitoring
 
Thresholds and regime shifts in Australian freshwater ecosystems
 
Tracing spatial and temporal scales in aquatic connectivity using novel approaches
 
TERN-eMAST
 
 

The ACEAS mid-term review was recently completed by Professors Steve Cork and Richard Price.
 
"Essentially the mid-term review involved looking at what had been contributed by ACEAS so far, how it was working in terms of its efficiency and its support, and where it should be heading over its next phase," said Richard Price, one of the mid-term reviewers.
 
The reviewers spent time getting to know the ACEAS and TERN staff in their offices, and also engaged with the extended ACEAS family through face-to-face and telephone interviews with grant recipients and sending out a survey to over 400 ACEAS participants, from which they received 50 constructive responses. The review process also involved a review committee appointed for the purpose (Ted Lefroy, Bob Pressey and Andy Steven) and the ACEAS Advisory Panel. Throughout the entire process the reviewers found nothing but favourable support for ACEAS.
 
The overall impression of ACEAS for the reviewers was very positive. "ACEAS is a unique organisation that does things that would not otherwise be done," said Richard. "It is an essential organisation, and the country needs it."
 
"There is nothing like ACEAS in Australia," said Richard. “There are plenty of examples in the R&D system of interdisciplinary and multi-organisational initiatives, but a lot of these just focus on planning ahead, reviewing the past or undertaking basic but necessary longer-term research. ACEAS provides the space for real in-depth analysis at critical points in time that wouldn’t occur otherwise. This can drastically reduce the time to achieve important breakthroughs. It does that not just for TERN, but as part of a national science system, and that’s vitally important in my opinion."
 
“I’d like to congratulate the ACEAS participants on their contribution to the whole field of integration, synthesis and analysis in Australia because they’ve really laid down a platform for doing it in the longer term, and for that reason I really hope that ACEAS does continue long into the future."
 
Speaking of what he sees in the future for ACEAS, Richard said, “I think ACEAS is going to face some tension in future, which will be between maintaining rigorous science driven by the need to publish in peer reviewed journals, versus the societal need to overcome problems. At the moment ACEAS is trying to do both things.
 
“My personal feeling is that if it goes too much down the peer reviewed route at the cost of relevancy it will just get swallowed up by an R&D system that won’t differentiate ACEAS from the many peer-review driven initiatives. While maintaining rigour will be important, its distinguishing feature ought to be servicing the people that are actually paying for it: the citizens of Australia through the tax payers’ money.
 
“What I would like to see ACEAS do in future is get involved more and more in providing some rigorous analysis underpinning policy and management options that address the many environmental issues we face. I’m not saying that it should get involved in policy advocacy, but it could at least get involved, even more than it has done in the past, in providing policy options for a range of issues.
 
If you are interested in reading the ACEAS Mid-Term Review click here or email Alison on aceas.tern@uq.edu.au
 
The ACEAS science communicator, Jo Savill, spoke with the mid-term reviewer Professor Richard Price, who is a social and political scientist and Managing Director of the environmental research firm Kiri-ganai Research, an Adjunct Professor of Environmental Sociology (University of Southern Qld), and Adjunct Associate Professor of the Fenner School of Environment and Society (Australian National University) and a Board Member of Abundant Water, an international humanitarian NGO.
 

 



 
The International Ecological Congress of the International Association for Ecology (INTECOL ) is one of the premier events in the global calendar for ecologists. INTECOL was established in 1967 to assist ecologists seek greater international links so they can better address the world's major ecological problems. Its first congress was in 1974, and it has proved to be “an important and effective venue for ecologists to meet, reinforce connections, and compare methods and understanding”.  
 
More than 45 Australians attended the conference, more it appeared, than from any other nation other than the host. When possible I attended ACEAS and TERN-associated presentations, of which there were a few.
 
TERN had a presence in the Ecological Society of Australia stand, albeit a little later in the week than anticipated but we were there!
 
On Thursday evening we ran a gathering for Australians and some of their associates attending the conference. We had to plan for this from a distance and well in advance, so it was sad to see many disappointed Australians not able to join us. BUT we still had a great gathering of 40 people. It is hard to achieve the outcomes that a networked facility such as TERN is aiming to do, and I think this event did its little bit to help that.

 

 
Here is some of the great feedback we received about the gathering:
 
"I discussed 2 opportunities for collaboration with Uni colleagues and even talked about possible joint appointments..."
 
"To meet with some Australian researchers who I would not otherwise have spoken to, because they are outside my immediate field. Conferences are obviously good places to meet other researchers, but usually these are people in my field of specialisation. This little gathering provided a nice opportunity to break out of that in a relaxed situation."
 
"First, I thought it was very nice just to assemble the Australian contingent, because otherwise – although aware there were a reasonably large number of Australians present – one could not be sure of exactly who was or was not at the meeting.  More explicitly, it provided an opportunity for me to get hold of some people that I had not otherwise been able to get hold of, and–equally important–conversely."
 
"A more focused/smaller gathering in an informal setting made it easier for an early career research like myself to approach those related to my field or otherwise."
 
From the feedback overall:
  • a smaller gathering is condusive to collaboration and networking,
  • great for cutting across discipline areas and seniority
Suggestions included:
  • speed dating so everyone can talk to the eminent guests,
  • having it earlier in the week of the conference.

P.S. This event was advertised via facebook, twitter, three e-newsletters (TERN, ACEAS and ESA), email, twitter and on the conference web site. And we had to have bookings or there would not have been enough to eat and drink!
 

ACEAS is pleased to announce that a data product from the 'Conserving Koalas in the 21st Century' working group is now available and can be accessed through the ACEAS Data Portal. The ACEAS portal display allows the user to undertake a regional comparison of Koala populations utilising an interactive spatial visualisation. This release caps off a tremendous effort by the working group led by Clive McAlpine and his team.
 


 
Koalas are one of Australia’s most recognizable and symbolic native fauna but populations are in widespread decline across the eastern half of the continent where they are endemic. This pattern of decline is set to continue unless significant efforts to protect Koalas and their unique habitat are vastly improved. These efforts must rely on a comprehensive understanding of Koala population dynamics and the underlying drivers of regional population decline. It is this critical understanding of population dynamics that the ACEAS working group addressed by integrating and synthesizing existing datasets to build a scientifically based assessment of Koala populations and facilitate comparison between regions, an issue identified by the recent Nomination of the Koala as Threatened Species under the EPBC Act 1999.
 
Major findings
he pooled opinion (facilitated by Mark Burgman and Marissa McBride; Burgmann 2005, 2011) from the 15 experts found that Koala numbers have declined by 30% to more than 50% across most of Queensland’s bioregions, including inland areas such as the Mulgalands and coastal regions such as southeast Queensland. Koalas in New South Wales have declined to a similar extent, particularly in northern coastal bioregions, with the exception being the New England Tableland. In nearly all other bioregions they have declined by levels ranging 15% - 50%. In Victoria and South Australia, introduced koala populations have declined by 15-30%, although in some areas around the Mt Lofty Ranges and eastern Gippsland, populations have increased by up to 24%.
 
The mean koala population for Queensland was estimated to be approximately 78,000, for New South Wales/ACT approximately 36,000, for Victoria approximately 182,000 and for South Australia approximately 33,000.
 
The Data Portal can be accessed here http://aceas.org.au/portal/ and you can read more about the working group on the ACEAS website
 
By Luke Houghton
 
References
Burgman, M. A. (2005) Risks & decisions for conservation and environmental management. Cambridge University Press.
Burgman M. A., McBride M., Ashton R., Spiers-Bridge A., Flander L., Wintle B., Fidler F., Rumpff L. and Twardy C. (2011). Expert status and performance. PloS One 67, e22998.
 

Confirmed workshop and working group meetings and other important dates for the next few months.

Check out the ACEAS web site for meeting updates and reports as they come to hand.

Title Principal Investigator Meeting Dates Where
Ecosystem vulnerability to changing fire regimes Mike Lawes 23-26 September, 2013 Women’s College
International Joint Synthesis Centre meeting Alison Specht and Eric Garnier (CESAB) 9-11 October, 2013 Aix en Provence, France
DataONE All Hands meeting Alison Specht 21-24 October 2013 New Mexico, USA
Australian aerobiology Janet Davies 4-8 November, 2013 MBRS, NSI
Interactive Games For Ecosystem Services Bob Costanza 2-6 December, 2013 MBRS, NSI
Mechanisms of Extinction for Northern Quolls Diana Fisher 9-13 December, 2013 MBRS, NSI

 

Contact: Alison Specht | ACEAS Facility Director | aceas.tern@uq.edu.au


 
TERN is supported by the Australian Government through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and the Super Science Initiative.

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