Wildlife Queensland is excited to have been invited to the launch of the Statewide Regional Ecosystems Maps and Information Systems on Tuesday, 30 May at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Mt Coot-tha. The completion of this project is a significant achievement and positions Queensland uniquely in being the only Australian state with a framework to provide a systematic means of describing its vegetation across the variable environments. With our flora now covered, isn’t it time that a similarly accurate and comprehensive representation of Queensland’s fauna be made available?
The Queensland Herbarium has had a long history of vegetation surveying and mapping dating back to 1946 with staff being involved in multi-disciplinary land system surveys and then leading systematic surveys across Queensland since 1971. In those earlier years vegetation mapping used classifications based on structure, floristics and the environment. Furthermore funding, technology and ability to access areas rapidly imposed major constraints on the quality of the product.
Initiated in the 1990s, this project has now mapped the entire state of Queensland at a scale of 1:100 000. Drawing upon studies and research of earlier workers, Paul Sattler and Rebecca Williams developed the concept of the regional ecosystem and defined a regional ecosystem as a vegetation community that is consistently associated with a particular combination of geology, landform and soil.
Basic to all mapping is the fundamental question of scale. Ideally the question of scale should be considered without restrictions and having regard only for what would be the optimum scale to meet the program objectives. Practically however, this is not feasible and consideration has to be given to funding and staff available, time constraints and map size of the final product. All factors considered, the scale of 1: 100 000 was deemed appropriate for the regional ecosystem mapping project with data being collated at about 1:50 000. The 1:100 000 scale permits delineation of a minimum area of 5ha of remnant vegetation and 75m width limit for linear features. Because of demand regional ecosystem mapping is available at a larger scale in certain areas.
The major funds for this project have been sourced from both the Queensland and Commonwealth Governments over time. Other smaller project funding came from a range of sources including Cooperative Research Centre for Tropical Savannas, the National Vegetation Information System, Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network and various Queensland local governments.
It is acknowledged that all maps are prone to error, either through misinterpretation of imagery or simple human error in the various phases of the transcription process. The perception of errors by map users is also a strong probability. The lack of understanding of the limitations imposed by the scale used may lead to perceived errors where in fact none exist. At a scale of 1:100 000 it is not possible to show on a map a band of vegetation 20m wide fringing a creek. The Queensland Herbarium aimed to achieve accuracy of greater than 80 percent. From Wildlife Queensland’s use of the mapping to date, that target has been well and truly exceeded and in fact accuracy levels of 95+ percent have been the order of the day.
Vegetation associations and vegetation maps have been and continue to be used as surrogates for biodiversity. However, research by various workers has clearly demonstrated that while this may be correct for plants and certain classes of fauna, it may be far less reliable for other fauna groups including reptiles. Currently the regional system mapping and its bi-products are the best available to serve this purpose.
What other uses does this technology have? The regional ecosystem maps are vital components of the regulated vegetation management maps under the Vegetation Management Act 1999. They also identify essential habitat for protected wildlife. This mapping plays a key role in the Environment Protection Act in defining areas suitable for development. The Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing use the maps in the management of our protected area estate that includes our national parks. The regional ecosystem maps assist the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection in planning future acquisition of the protected area estate. And their use is not restricted to Queensland legislation: the Commonwealth Government accesses the mapping when listing threatened ecological communities under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Closer to home, the regional ecosystem mapping is an essential component of Wildlife Queensland’s tool kit for cost effective and efficient operations. Its ready access through the government’s open data portal has proven its worth time and again. It has been useful in planning fauna surveys, advocating for the expansion of the protected area estate, opposing inappropriate and non-essential developments and justifying funding applications to various grant organisations.
So where to from here? Without question the regional ecosystem mapping has provided a rigorous vegetation inventory and with its ongoing reviews will continue to provide current and accurate information that hopefully serves its many users to make appropriate decisions. As in the past, there is no doubt that with advancement in technology, improvements will continue to occur.
For many years, Wildlife Queensland has been advocating the need for a systematic survey of Queensland’s fauna. The completion of this statewide regional ecosystem mapping in less than 20 years clearly demonstrates that significant projects with strong scientific leadership and coordination together with political willingness can be achieved. It is time that a similarly accurate and comprehensive representation of Queensland’s biodiversity is made available. With our flora, and to some arguable degree our fauna, covered, accurate knowledge of our biodiversity is now required. The regional ecosystem mapping provides a base on which to build a systematic survey of Queensland’s fauna and that survey is needed now.