The team from Ausplots recently completed the first survey of Pilbara Rangelands Ausplots during a two week trip through the Fortescue River Catchment.
The work to add to the Rangelands Ausplots Network at a National scale was supported by the Pilbara Corridors project through funding from the Australian Government.
Ausplots is a national program of surveillance monitoring which has established a network of over 500 plots across Australia. The methodology is Commonwealth supported and managed nationally by the Terrestrial Ecological Research Network (TERN).
The 19 sites established in the Pilbara have utilised existing Department of Parks and Wildlife Pilbara biological survey plots where they were assessed as being suitable and a number of new site locations. The addition of the sites strengthens the Ausplots Network at a National Scale.
Pilbara Corridors Program Manager Ian Cotton said the aim of Rangelands Ausplots in the Fortescue Catchment is to support the national network by providing a baseline for ongoing monitoring.
“The Pilbara Corridors Project will be able to use the information collected by the Ausplots team to better inform environmental decision making across the Fortescue River catchment,” Mr Cotton said.
TERN Ausplots vegetation ecologist Emrys Leitch said detailed, consistent soil data is generally poor over much of remote Australia.
“The methods used by Ausplots aim to fill in some of these key knowledge gaps,” he said.
Soil Scientist Rick Flitton, has been part of the project for the last five years and has helped to collect soil information including bulk density measure, soil texture and soil chemistry/pH, E.C. and effervescence. Samples are also collected for soil meta- barcoding analysis.
The Ausplots project also collects a range of vegetation data. Ranger Sandy Benson and Volunteer Stefan Caddy-Retalic helped to collect vegetation samples that will be used to identify all of the species within the site.
“Collecting point intercept measurements can be used to provide detailed information about species cover and abundance which can be used to track vegetation changes over time,” Mr Leitch said.
“Information on basal area (for woody biomass) and leaf area index (also used for measuring biomass) as well as plant tissues samples from all species are also taken.”
Mr Leitch said at a national scale, the work will also enable comparisons of disjunct vegetation communities such as Eucalyptus leucophloia and Eucalyptus gamophylla woodlands which Ausplots has sampled in the Northern Territory and Queensland.
“It will also help to fill in other important knowledge gaps such as soil data and herbarium specimen records,” he said.
The team hopes to return to the Pilbara at the end of the next wet season to further the collaboration with Pilbara Corridors and to extend the network by establishing further rangelands Ausplots in the Fortescue catchment over the next two years.