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New analysis promises better weed management of the Lake Eyre Basin

This week Jennifer Firn is telling us about our Lake Eyre Basin threat prioritisation project outcome. Good job team (Press release)!

The Decision Team recently developed a cost-effective weed management analysis to help protect one of the most unique regions in the world- the 120 million ha Lake Eyre Basin (LEB)–an equivalent size to France, Italy and Germany combined. A recent Decision point article called  our study “the Heart of the Matter”. I love this title that David Salt came up with as for me nothing represents Australia more than the iconic ecosystems of the Lake Eyre Basin. Having grown up in Canada, it was the images of the spinifex grasslands, the Mitchell grasslands, the Simpson’s Desert,  Uluru and Kati Thanda that fueled my aspirations to live and be an ecologist in this unique and beautiful land down under. It is one of the largest and most pristine internally draining systems and is drained by the most variable river systems in the world: the Georgina, Diamantina and Cooper. Kati Thanda is the fifth largest terminal lake in the world.

In April 2013, we brought together a team of LEB experts with diverse interests including private land owners, ecologists, policy makers, NGOs and land managers from local, state and federal departments, to jointly identify the key invasive plant species to target and, develop and evaluate different management strategies for across the basin.

We then used this information to run an ecological cost benefit analyses to identify the key invasive plant species to target to protect ecosystem intactness across the bioregions of the LEB, the level of investment required and the extent of ecosystem intactness that may be lost without effective invasive plant species management strategies.

Overall, the total cost of managing 12 invasive plant strategies over the next 50 years was estimated at $1.7 billion, which would reduce invasive plant dominance by 14 per cent (17 million ha). If only targeting Weeds of National Significance, the total cost was estimated to be $113 million.

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Endemic Mitchell grasslands are being converted to shrubland by the invasion of exotic invasive plant species like Prickly acacia. Invasive animals are also a very big concern in the Basin, which is our next project funded through the Invasive Animal CRC.

Participants discussed the many advantages to reducing the dominance of an invasive plant species and increasing native species diversity including the enhanced provisioning of key ecosystem services and agricultural co-benefits such as nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, drought tolerance, hydrological flows and resilience to changing perturbations such as the ability of a plant community to recover after a fire.

A highlight for me from having led this project jointly with Josie Carwardine was the opportunity to meet and learn from the experts who volunteered their precious time to participate in this first basin-wide assessment of weed management. After the three day workshop and many follow-up conversations with the experts, I realised what a passionate, dedicated and knowledgeable group the LEB community are, and what a privilege it was to bring them together to work on such an important issue for protecting the integrity of the Basin now and into the future.

Please follow this link for a copy of the full report: CAF Working Paper 17: Priority threat management of invasive plant species in the Lake Eyre Basin

The project was funded by the Australian Governments National Environmental Research Program (NERP) through CSIRO’s Climate Adaptation Flagship and was carried out by researchers from CSIRO, QUT and UQ Environmental Decisions Hub, with all three organisations providing in-kind support

Firn J, Martin TG, Walters B, Hayes J, Nicol S, Chades I, Carwardine J. 2013. Priority Threat Management of invasive plants species in the Lake Eyre Basin. CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship Working paper No. 17 (CSIRO and Queensland University of Technology). (PDF)

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