Spatial Prioritization for Conservation and Management: Integrating Vegetation Condition into Conservation Planning

Dr. Kerrie Wilson and Megan Evans were recently awarded funding from the Australian Centre for Ecological Synthesis and Analysis (ACEAS) for a series of workshops that will use the Great Western Woodlands of south-western Australia as a case study to design a method for mapping vegetation condition for a large region. The information provided will assist in the prioritisation of regional conservation efforts. The first meeting is set to take place from 15th-17th November.

The south-west of Australia is a region of national and international ecological significance, and contains the largest intact example of Mediterranean woodland in the world. Stretching almost 16 million hectares east of the Western Australian wheat belt, The Great Western Woodlands (GWW) is significant not only for its natural and cultural heritage, but is also an important area for future economic development. Despite its size and intactness relative to the surrounding agricultural matrix, the GWW faces increasing pressures from too frequent fire, invasive species and the expansion of extractive land uses.

Maintaining the overall intactness of this landscape is considered crucial for preserving large scale ecological and evolutionary processes. An understanding of extent and condition of vegetation will therefore be necessary to inform management decisions at the regional scale, and would assist with State-level strategic planning, as well as region-wide conservation and land use planning initiatives currently underway.  Importantly, a widely used conservation planning tool (Marxan with Zones) now has the capacity to explicitly consider site specific metrics such as vegetation condition when determining priorities for conservation and management, alongside targets for the representation of biodiversity features.

The GWW contains the largest intact example of Mediterranean woodland in the world. Photo: Megan Evans

The GWW contains the largest intact example of Mediterranean woodland in the world. Photo: Megan Evans

However, there is in general a deficit of regional scale mapping of vegetation condition in Australia, despite recent advancements in methodologies for modeling condition and the availability of data which could be used for this purpose.  Moreover, there is exists no framework for incorporating such data into spatial prioritization analyses. As part of the landscape-scale conservation project that is Gondwana Link, the GWW provides a unique test bed for developing such a framework that could provide guidance for other connectivity conservation projects being undertaken in Australia and overseas.

The working group will bring together experts in the fields of conservation biology, remote sensing and vegetation ecology with the common goal of  consolidating approaches and data for regional scale mapping of vegetation condition, and advancing the integration of such information into  spatial conservation prioritization.  Specifically, we will:

  1. Synthesise existing data on vegetation attributes, disturbances and climatic variables which could inform the prioritization of conservation, management or restoration activities at the regional scale,
  2. Develop a methodology for mapping woody vegetation condition at a regional scale, using the GWW as a case study, and
  3. Determine a general framework for integrating information on vegetation condition into spatial conservation prioritization analyses.
Map of southern Western Australia showing the boundary of the Great Western Woodlands. Source: Watson, A., S. Judd, J. Watson, A. Lam, and D. Mackenzie. 2008. The Extraordinary Nature of the Great Western Woodlands. The Wilderness Society, Perth.

Map of southern Western Australia showing the boundary of the Great Western Woodlands. Source: Watson, A., S. Judd, J. Watson, A. Lam, and D. Mackenzie. 2008. The Extraordinary Nature of the Great Western Woodlands. The Wilderness Society, Perth.

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