Knowing where the wild things are

Knowing where the wild things are

Discovering how many of a given species are in a particular location over a period of time helps to build a picture of their environment and how it changes.

This is useful information for those making policy and decisions about land management, biodiversity and conservation.

Spatio-temporal species distribution modelling has been taken to a new level by a team of our researchers, led by Associate Professor Bertram Ostendorf.

They have developed the world’s most detailed continent-wide species distribution model to integrate nearly half a century of presence records with new spatial data from satellites.

Initially used to track numbers of Australia’s southern hairy-nosed wombat, the model will be applied to other species, enabling evidence-based and site-specific wildlife management.

 “Effective wildlife management relies primarily on two things: understanding species’ abundance and distribution over time; and knowing what’s influencing that abundance,” Professor Ostendorf says.

His research uses technology to overcome the challenges of collecting this information in the field, sharpening the tools needed by environmental and conservation bodies.

Southern hairy-nosed wombats inhabit open grasslands and construct highly visible warren systems, making them ideal candidates for population monitoring using satellite imagery and other remote sensing tools.

“We used freely available, very high-resolution satellite imagery, combined with data from ground surveys and remote sensing, to map the wombats’ distribution and estimate overall numbers and population trends.” Professor Ostendorf says.

Combining this information with spatial data such as soil and climate maps has built a uniquely comprehensive picture of where wombats live and how many have lived there over the past 30 years.

Southern hairy-nosed wombats live on the edge, in extreme climatic conditions and in an environment threatened by invasive species and environmental change. Nevertheless their numbers have increased in the last 30 years.

“They’re ‘ecosystem engineers’ responsible for creating habitat for other species that use their homes, hence play a broader role in arid and semiarid biodiversity conservation,” Professor Ostendorf says.

Wombats are true trailblazers for better environmental management.

Tagged in Environment, sustainability and climate change, wildlife conservation, land management, biodiversity