Australian and South African Scientists inspecting a soil and
vegetation monitoring site in Kruger National Park
The world’s largest rangelands conference was held in Durban
in July this year. CEO of the Tropical Savannas CRC,
Prof. Gordon Duff
, presented at the conference
With more than 140 spoken papers delivered at the VII International
Rangelands Conference, up to six sessions running concurrently for
four days, plus in excess of 400 posters, it is impossible to try
to summarise the entire conference. Instead I will attempt to
provide a few observations and lessons gleaned that may be relevant
to researchers and land managers in northern Australia.
Relative to most of the rest of the world’s rangelands,
Australian systems are not experiencing the huge levels of social
and political pressure to produce food irrespective of the
longer-term sustainability of production or biodiversity
implications. This may be stating the obvious, but the contrast is
overwhelming. Our opportunity to develop sustainably in northern
Australia isn’t just greater than that of the rest of the
world’s rangelands—it’s in a class of its own.
This, to me, hammers home the truly unique position occupied by
Australian rangelands and the Tropical Savannas CRC.
Monitoring variables such as range condition in South Africa, and
probably many other parts of the world, is much more reliant on
labour-intensive, on-ground data collection, and less on
remote-sensing based technologies. This should be no surprise,
but the extent to which we use these technologies contrasts more
strongly than I expected. For example, Kruger National Park, with
well in excess of a million visitors a year and a tourism-driven,
foreign exchange revenue base that probably rivals that of the
Great Barrier Reef, nevertheless relies almost entirely on field
observations by Parks’ staff for their fire-scar mapping,
despite the fact that the Park covers 20 000km
. There should be an opportunity to export some of our more
cost-effective technologies and approaches.
I was particularly keen to see some good working examples of
participatory and adaptive management, either in systems focusing
on conservation or on production, but while progress has been made,
there is still a way to go.
Kruger National Park
A visit to Kruger National Park, and some surrounding game
reserves, culminated in a one-day workshop on fire, vegetation,
erosion and related monitoring themes, hosted by the South African
National Parks Service and conducted by Dr Harry Biggs, Program
Manager for Systems Ecology at Kruger.
Our guides were Prof. Pete Zacharias, Dean of Science at University
of Natal, and Mike Peel from South African National Parks
(SANParks). The workshop was a useful and interesting exchange of
ideas and approaches to monitoring, indicators and linking research
to management objectives (adaptive management).
The workshop was linked to field days investigating monitoring
sites and discussing approaches to monitoring. Some issues
were common to management of Australian rangelands (managing
grazing pressure, fire, weed invasion), and some were not (managing
elephant impacts, poaching and cross-border incursions). SANParks
invest heavily in monitoring, and gather huge amounts of
ground-based data from monitoring plots, exclosure experiments (an
elephant-proof fence has to be seen to be appreciated),
fire-exclusion experiments etc. Some of these studies date back 40
years or more, with continuous data available over the entire
Monitoring approaches were reasonably well-coupled to management
decision making, using a threshold of probable concern strategy
that is well institutionalised. This is an area where the South
Africans demonstrate a sophisticated approach to adaptive
management that could be quite instructive to some of the work
being carried out by the Tropical Savannas CRC and its partners.
There are some useful models that will be applicable to some of our
fire-management and knowledge-building projects.
With respect to biodiversity monitoring, historically most of the
emphasis in South Africa has been placed on game animals, and only
recently has more interest been shown in more representative
biodiversity monitoring of both fauna and flora. Much of the
historic emphasis on the latter has been on pasture condition,
relating to the support of game populations.
Recent interest in landscape health and monitoring of system-wide
biodiversity has provided opportunities for several Australian
scientists to contribute advice and expertise, including a number
who work with the TS–CRC (including CSIRO SE’s Alan
Andersen, David Tongway, Garry Cook, Tracy Dawes-Gromadski, Adam
Liedloff and Chris Margules).
Despite this ramping-up of collaborative activity, I believe a
significant opportunity exists to both export, and to test/validate
in a different context, some of the insights that Tropical Savannas
CRC has developed in defining, measuring and monitoring healthy
landscapes. Certainly an opportunity for greater collaboration