Assessing the ecological representativeness of Australia’s terrestrial National Reserve System

The National Reserve System is Australia’s network of protected areas, comprising Commonwealth, state and territory parks and reserves and Indigenous and private protected areas. It conserves examples of Australia’s natural landscapes and native plants and animals that are under pressure from future land-use and climate change.

Australia has obligations under the International Convention on Biological Diversity including to meet Aichi Target 11, which requires that at least 17 per cent of terrestrial land be conserved through an ecologically representative and well connected system of protected areas by 2020.

Over 17 per cent of Australia’s landmass is now included in the National Reserve System (NRS); however, this does not mean that the NRS fully protects the complete range of biodiversity, ecosystems and their environments.

This project examined how well the NRS represents the full range of ‘ecological environments’ in Australia, both now and under future climate change scenarios.

This project concluded in June 2016.

The results provide an indication of how well positioned the reserve system is to protect Australia’s biodiversity from future threats and may inform future conservation efforts, such as identifying and mapping ecological environments that are poorly represented in the National Reserve System.

Key findings:

  • 28 of the 86 bioregions in the Australian continent have achieved an average 17% representativeness across the ecological environments they contain.
  • Around 63% of Australia’s distinct ecological environments are below 17% protected.
  • Under future climate change scenarios, very low levels of present-day ecological environments will be protected within existing NRS boundaries. Of those that are retained, some may be diminished in extent within the NRS or generally in terms of their entire distribution, while others may have expanded their range.
  • Further work may be needed to protect current ecological environments and help manage the transition to new environments that may develop under climate change.

Further details about our findings and recommendations are available in the final report. Data is available for download here.

Project publications


Williams KJ, Harwood TD and Ferrier S (2016) Assessing the ecological representativeness of Australia’s terrestrial National Reserve System: A community-level modelling approach (A report prepared for the Australian Government, Department of the Environment). CSIRO Land and Water (EP163634), Canberra, Australia. DOI:


Harwood T, Williams K, Ferrier S, Ota N and Perry J (2016) 9-second gridded continental Australia representation within the National Reserve System 2015 for Vascular Plants 1990:2050 CanESM2/MIROC5 RCP 4.5/8.5 (CMIP5) (GDM: VAS_v5_r11). v3. CSIRO. Data Collection.