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Monitoring rangeland biodiversity: Plants as indicators

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Abstract

Abstract  As well as being important components of biodiversity in their own right, plants reflect the physical environment, are the primary target of many of the pressures acting on rangelands, and are relatively amenable to measurement. Hence, measurements based on plants have considerable potential to be efficient indicators of the response of rangeland biodiversity to land use. A recent report commissioned by the National Land and Water Resources Audit recommended a core set of 11 indicators, six of which relied on measurements of plants. These were trends in (i) the extent of clearing; (ii) the cover of native perennial ground-layer vegetation; (iii) the distribution and abundance of exotic plant species; (iv) the distribution and abundance of fire-sensitive species; (v) the distribution and abundance of grazing-sensitive species; and (vi) the distribution and abundance of listed threatened entities. Most indicated responses of plants to pressures acting on them. Only two (clearing and exotic plants) related to pressures. We recommend that the set be expanded to include two additional pressure indicators, one for grazing and another for fire, in recognition of their extent and potential influence on rangeland biodiversity. We also recommend that benchmark sites be included in all ground-based monitoring programmes to provide reference standards for those biotic indicators about which little is known. Assessments of the current state of knowledge about these indicators for two case-study regions, the Gascoyne–Murchison strategy area and Cape York Peninsula, have shown that it would be possible to monitor most of them directly at regional scales, but that current monitoring programmes fall short of achieving this.

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