Cutting Edge Science Symposium: Developing a dynamic ecosystem assessment system for Australia

This cutting edge science symposium brought together local, international and Indigenous researchers, and land managers to develop a roadmap for near real-time assessment and forecasting of ecosystem condition and service provision.

The symposium explored the multiple dimensions to development of an ecosystem assessment and forecasting system, including Indigenous knowledge perspectives on country, as well as a range of existing tools, data and knowledge resources produced by Western science.

Why a dynamic ecosystem assessment system?

Our environment is dynamic and has adapted to respond to a range of disturbances such as fire, flood and boom bust climatic cycles. Our ability to manage the environment is dependent on the way our knowledge systems incorporate an understanding of these dynamics. In the Australian context, Indigenous land managers have 60,000 years of lived experience of Australia’s environment and knowledge and scientific systems which reflect their deep cultural and spiritual connection to county, and ability to manage the land to enhance and protect precious natural resources. The recent 2019/20 bushfires highlighted the critical importance this perspective and knowledge for the management of our environment.

Western ecology has also developed our understanding of ecosystem dynamics, and over many decades has generated data, knowledge and tools (such as simulation capabilities) which if strategically integrated may support development of an ecosystem forecasting and assessment system for Australia. An integrated system that enables assessment and forecasting of the state of condition of our ecosystems, the impacts of land management activities, and the flow of ecosystem services would help to transform our decision making capability.

This symposium explored methods for a novel national environmental assessment system, linked to advances in ecosystem simulation and earth observation capability, and a recognition of the need for a weaving of Indigenous ecological knowledge and western science in a way that could transform the way we currently monitor ecosystems, their threats and environmental management impacts.

What did this symposium achieve?

This cutting edge science symposium provided a platform for the integration of exciting, yet currently disparate, sets of advances in ecosystem assessment occurring in Australia and worldwide. The symposium explored the utility of innovative methodologies and technologies for quantitatively representing and assessing ecosystem dynamics in space and time. It showcased the critical need for two-way science and the importance of including Indigenous knowledge of land and sea management in an ecosystem assessment system in a way that respects the rights and aspirations of First Nations Australians.

It did this by bringing together researchers, decision-makers and land managers to

  1. learn from, and determine synergies with, international experiences of ecosystem assessment;
  2. promote joint development (‘community of practice’) and implementation across jurisdictions;
  3. synthesise understanding around knowledge gaps and pathways forward that will be collated into a road map under development in 2021.

The symposium provided space for different interactions between scientists, land managers and decision-makers, including more formal sharing of knowledge and discussion sessions.

Agenda and presenter bios

Presentation sessions

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Monday 1st February 2021

Session 1 Why do we need a dynamic ecosystem assessment system for Australia and who benefits?

Tuesday 2nd February 2021

Session 2 What does a dynamic ecosystem assessment and forecasting system look like and what knowledge foundation do we build on?

Wednesday 3rd February 2021

Session 3 What tools & methods do we need to bring together to develop a national ecosystem assessment and forecasting system?

Thursday 4th February 2021

State and Transition simulation model (ST-Sim) demonstration
Session 4 What tools & methods do we need to bring together to develop a national ecosystem assessment and forecasting system? (cont.)

Friday 5th February 2021

Session 5 Exploring futures, climate risk and building adaptive capacity

The finer details

This symposium was held online, via video conference technology, from the 1st to the 5th February 2021 and was open to anyone to participate. Sessions were live but were recorded for re-viewing.

The symposium was funded by CSIRO and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (now Department Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water). Please don’t hesitate to contact or for more details.