A national reference library of expert site condition assessments

This project developed an approach for eliciting site-level ecological condition assessments from Australia’s ecological science and NRM communities. The elicited data will be one of the data sources used to build a library of site condition observations from across Australia.

Ecological condition and notions of ecosystem integrity are human constructs and there is subjectivity in the way condition is defined, assessed and interpreted. Existing metrics rely on the comparison of a suite of weighted ecosystem variables with specified archetypes or benchmarks defined in terms of those variables. While many condition assessment protocols are similar in terms of the attribute information collected, they can differ in critical detail, approaches to benchmarks or purpose. This makes it challenging to aggregate or interpret condition consistently, with a national view. Rather than attempting to aggregate a multitude of complex raw attribute data, this project is collating expert interpretations of condition.

Over many years of field observation and training, members of Australia’s ecological science and practitioner community have developed a deep understanding of our ecosystems. This includes knowledge of ecosystem dynamics and an understanding of how ecosystems respond to anthropogenic disturbances. This project acknowledges that reliable condition assessment is heavily dependent on this deep ecological knowledge.

The condition data captured through elicitation will support ongoing development of the Habitat Condition Assessment System (HCAS), and will be made available to the research community for other purposes.

Project Publications

Fact sheets

Dickson F, White M, Pirzl R, Williams KJ, Lyon P, Warnick A and Ahmad M (2016) A national reference library of expert site condition assessments: Factsheet. CSIRO Land and Water, Canberra, Australia. Download the project flier, revised 2023.

Atlas of Living Australia BioCollect portal

Brenton P, Pirzl R, Raisbeck-Brown N, Dickson F, White M, Warnick A and Williams KJ (2018) The Habitat Condition Assessment Tool: BioCollect data collection portal hosted by the Atlas of Living Australia, https://biocollect.ala.org.au/hcat.


Warnick A, Raisbeck-Brown N, Mokany K, Williams K, White M, Metcalfe D, Prober S, Dickson F, Sparrow B and Pirzl R (2019) Australian habitat image collection. Data Collection. CSIRO, Canberra, Australia. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25919/5ce5e29fe1e81.

White M, Raisbeck-Brown N, Williams K, Warnick A, Mokany K, Brenton P, Sathya Moorthy S and Pirzl R (2019) Habitat condition data for Australia from expert elicitation. v2. Data Collection. CSIRO, Canberra, Australia. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25919/5c7da9661dbcc.


Liu C (2022) R code for habitat condition score rescaling to make the scores more comparable across assessors (file: habitat_condition_score_rescaling.r). Mendeley Data, Online, https://data.mendeley.com/datasets/kpm44drn73/2. DOI: 10.17632/kpm44drn73.2.


Pirzl R, Dickson F, White M, Williams KJ, Sinclair S, Brenton P, Warnick A, Raisbeck-Brown N, Liu C, Lyon P and Mokany K (2019) A National Reference Library of Expert Site Condition Assessments: Development and evaluation of method. Report to the Department of the Environment and Energy. CSIRO, Canberra, Australia. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25919/6txs-vy29.

Journal papers

White MD, Hollings T, Sinclair SJ, Williams KJ, Dickson F, Brenton P, Raisbeck-Brown N, Warnick A, Lyon P, Mokany K, Liu C and Pirzl R (2022) Towards a continent-wide ecological site condition database using calibrated expert evaluations. Ecological Applications e2729. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.2729.

Conference and workshop presentations

Pirzl R, White M, Williams KJ, Dickson F, Lyon P, Raisbeck-Brown N, Warnick A and Sinclair S (2018) A novel approach to developing a view of national ecological condition using expert elicitation. Ecological Society of Australia Annual Conference 2018: Ecology in the Anthropocene, 25-29 November 2018. Ecological Society of Australia. <http://esa2018.org.au/program/symposia-at-esa18/>.

Williams KJ, Dickson F, Donohue R, Ferrier S, Harwood T, Lehmann E, Lyon P, Macfarlane C, McVicar T, Ozolins M, Pirzl R, Pinner L, Storey R and White M (2018) National mapping of biodiversity habitat condition for comparative assessments across regionsEcosystem Surprises and Rapid Collapse, Boden Research Conference, Australian Academy of Science, 8-9 May 2018. Book of abstracts, page 53.

Williams KJ, Dickson F, Donohue R, Ferrier S, Harwood T, Lehmann E, Lyon P, Macfarlane C, McVicar T, Ozolins M, Pirzl R, Pinner L, Storey R and White M (2018) National mapping of biodiversity habitat condition for comparative assessments across regions. In: Dijk AV (ed.) Expert workshop: Environmental‐economic accounts with Earth observation data. Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.

Published applications using expert site condition assessments

Williams KJ, Harwood TD, Lehmann EA, Ware C, Lyon P, Bakar S, Pinner L, Schmidt RK, Mokany K, Van Niel TG, Richards AE, Dickson F, McVicar TR and Ferrier S (2021) Habitat Condition Assessment System (HCAS version 2.1): Enhanced method for mapping habitat condition and change across Australia. CSIRO, Canberra, Australia. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25919/n3c6-7w60.

Related project links

Habitat Condition Assessment System (HCAS)