Life at Large: taking the big picture

From the Australian Alps to the Tasmanian Midlands

87__Page_14_Image_0001Four years ago, the NERP Landscapes and Policy Hub (a sister hub to NERP Environmental Decisions) set out to answer the question ‘How do we take a regional-scale view of biodiversity?’ The trigger for this question was the Hawke review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999). One of the questions facing the review was why, after 10 years of the Act being in operation, had the list of threatened and endangered species grown steadily to over 1,750 with precious few coming off that list. One of the review’s recommendations was to consider biodiversity at the scale of landscapes and whole regions as well as species and communities in order to understand and manage the underlying causes of decline.

In consultation with the Department of the Environment, the Landscapes and Policy Hub chose to apply a big picture view to two regions, the Australian Alps and the Tasmanian Midlands. The choice was partly because both regions were home to several listed plant communities plus a whole suite of threatened and endangered species, and partly because of their differences. One a privately owned valley, the other a publicly managed mountain range. One largely intact but under threat from invasive species and more frequent fires. The other a highly fragmented landscape, the second region to be farmed following European settlement.

By talking to residents, land owners, managers and local experts the researchers had the opportunity to see the issues first hand.” 

The first step in the research process was to take the 36 researchers in a bus and visit the two regions. By talking to residents, land owners, managers and local experts the researchers had the opportunity to see the issues first hand. They then went to work in seven research teams specialising in social and institutional issues, climate change, biogeography, economics, wildlife, fire and freshwater ecology. An eighth team, communication and integration, took on the task of keeping the researchers in touch with each other and their wider audiences.

Every six months the researchers met to swap notes. In February 2015, they launched the website Life at Large to describe the six step process that emerged from their case studies:

  1. Describe the social context
  2. Consult the biodiversity checklist
  3. Develop regional scenarios
  4. Map processes and threats
  5. Model species and communities
  6. Set priorities

If you’d like to learn more about what we did or explore the tools, techniques and policy pathways that we have developed on our journey, please visit our new website Life at Large.

More info: 





An example of the work that incorporates climate change scenarios into species distribution modelling. The area of Tasmania climatically suitable for the lowland Themeda triandra (kangaroo grass) community shown as the probability of occurrence (a) under current climate with known locations in black and (b) by 2050 based on agreement between 6 climate models. 


Porfirio LL, Harris RMB, Lefroy EC, Hugh S, Gould SF, Lee G, Bindoff NL and Mackey B (2014). Improving the Use of Species Distribution Models in Conservation Planning and Management under Climate Change PLOS One 9(11): e113749. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113749 

Four things we learned about regional scale assessment of biodiversity 

1. Understand the social context. Building a social profile of a region from ABS and other survey data provides a picture of who lives there, what they do, what they value, their impact on natural values and their capacity to support conservation given that success will rely on local participation and commitment over the long term.

2. Embrace a broad definition of natural values. At the regional scale it’s necessary to include functional as well as compositional attributes of biodiversity and natural values of local and cultural significance (see the biodiversity checklist under step 2 on the website).

3. Incorporate climate change scenarios into species distribution modelling. To identify locations likely to be important for conservation in the future, it’s necessary to consider plausible shifts in the distributions of species, communities and ecosystem processes.

4. Represent results in ways that enable stakeholder participation in decision making. For example, dynamic visual methods can be used to represent scenarios for likely locations of high value for species, communities and other iconic features under different combinations of threatening processes.

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