Keren is a conservation ecologist keen on integrating on-ground ecology with practical conservation and well-founded policy. Prior to her return to the world of the student, she worked as an environmental officer at the Western Australian Department of Water, investigating climate change and forest management impacts on forested streams in the south-west of WA (and she still does this part time). Keren has also worked on regional climate change impacts in the Middle East, and did her honours research on the threat of Phytophthora dieback to plants of significance for Noongar people on the south coast of Western Australia.

Keren’s interests include conserving ecological processes that sustain biodiversity in relatively intact systems, finding solutions to complex problems regarding environmental conservation and development; and understanding the ways in which our appreciation of, and connection to nature affect the ecological legacy we create.

Keren was based at the Ecosystem Restoration and Intervention Ecology research group at the University of Western Australia’s School of Plant Biology.

Affiliation: University of Western Australia

Status: PhD student, since June 2011

Education:

BSc (Hons, Conservation Biology), BA (Philosophy)

Email: keren.raiter@grs.uwa.edu.au

Research project:

The cryptic and the cumulative: strategic ecological mitigation and offsetting for mineral exploration and mining in south-western Australia’s Great Western Woodlands

The Great Western Woodlands of south-western Australia are special in many ways:  with a 250 million year continuous biological heritage and located at the interzone between the moist south-west and the arid desert interior, this region is a centre of diversity and endemicity (many things live there and nowhere else in the world). It contains almost one third of Australia’s eucalypt taxa, well over 3000 flowering plant species (one fifth of Australia’s total), and an unquantified, but apparently enormous diversity of other living things.

At 16 million hectares — larger than England — the Great Western Woodlands are home to the world’s largest remaining temperate woodland; the majority of temperate woodlands around the globe have been decimated for agriculture and human habitation. The region has been identified as a continent-wide priority for conservation, although it faces a number of ongoing challenges to its relative ecological intactness: changing fire regimes, pastoralism, weeds, climate change, feral predators, dingo baiting, exotic herbivores, and planned barrier fence extension.

The cumulative impacts of mineral exploration and mining on the relatively intact ecosystems of the Great Western Woodlands are not well understood, despite being potentially major factors shaping the landscape; with more than 60% of the region under current mineral tenements, booming commodity prices, and strong government support for the development of the state’s mining industry.

Strategic assessment and mitigation could provide improved environmental and land-use planning outcomes while potentially benefitting development proponents by providing greater upfront guidance and certainty of access and protecting their social licence to operate.

The recent upsurge of interest from both government and private stakeholders in environmental offsetting provides a significant opportunity to support regional conservation actions, if offsets are implemented wisely and within a strategic conservation planning context.

The objectives of this research included:

  • review of cumulative diffuse, cryptic, and secondary ecological impacts in intact systems
  • spatial analysis of values impacted by mining and exploration activities
  • ecological field work investigating impacts of mining and exploration infrastructure on a range of environmental variables
  • modelling scenarios for mitigation and offsetting in the Great Western Woodlands

This PhD project was supervised by Professor Richard Hobbs (UWA), Dr Kerrie Wilson (UQ)Professor Hugh Possingham (UQ), and Dr Suzanne Prober (CSIRO), and was supported by the UWA Gledden Postgraduate Research Scholarship, the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (part of the Environmental Decisions Group), and The Wilderness Society. It run in association with the Terrestrial Environmental Research Network’s Great Western Woodlands Supersite, the Wilson Lab’s GondwanaLink project and the work of the Great Western Woodlands Collaboration.