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The habitat hectares approach to vegetation assessment: An evaluation and suggestions for improvement


  • Michael A. McCarthy,

  • Kirsten M. Parris,

  • Rodney Van Der Ree,

  • Mark J. McDonnell,

  • Mark A. Burgman,

  • Nicholas S. G. Williams,

  • Natasha McLean,

  • Michael J. Harper,

  • Rachelle Meyer,

  • Amy Hahs,

  • Terry Coates

  • Michael McCarthy is Senior Ecologist, Kirsten Parris and Rodney van der Ree are Post-doctoral Fellows and Mark McDonnell is Director of the Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology (ARCUE, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, c/o School of Botany, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3010, Australia. Email: Mark Burgman is a Professor in the School of Botany (School of Botany, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3010, Australia). Nicholas Williams, Natasha McLean, Michael Harper, Rachelle Meyer, and Amy Hahs are graduate students at the University of Melbourne supervised by ARCUE staff. Terry Coates is an Ecologist with the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne (1000 Ballarto Road, Cranbourne, Victoria 3977, Australia).


Summary  The habitat hectares approach is an explicit, quantitative method for assessing the quality of vegetation by adding scores that are assigned to 10 habitat attributes. We believe it will be more repeatable and transparent than other methods that rely on subjective judgement. However, we have four principal criticisms of the method as it is currently proposed: (i) measurement of some of the attributes may be subject to considerable error that varies among assessors; (ii) the comparison of each measure with a single benchmark does not accommodate appropriate disturbance regimes; (iii) the proposed combination of attributes leads to some apparent internal inconsistencies; and (iv) it is not clear how the method will actually be used in practice. We suggest modifications to address these concerns and improve the proposed method. Finally, we make additional suggestions about the method's potential application, including: separate reporting of the extent and quality of different vegetation types to avoid the inappropriate combination of measures of area and quality; valuing appropriate disturbance regimes in natural areas; and considering very carefully the application of compensation or mitigation measures.