Categorizing Australian landscapes as an aid to assessing the generality of landscape management guidelines


*Correspondence: Richard J. Hobbs, School of Environmental Science, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia. E-mail:


Aim  A key question in ecology and ecological management is the extent to which management guidelines developed in one location can be generalized to other areas. Landscapes differ in their biophysical characteristics and the degree of human alteration imposed on them. Our aim was to develop a conceptual framework of Australian landscapes, on the basis of a few simple indicators, that can be used to enhance the communication of information in planning and managing landscapes, particularly for biodiversity conservation.

Location  The project considered landscapes across the continent of Australia.

Methods  The project was a desktop exercise and the approach was to identify the minimum set of variables, and levels within variables, that are most meaningful from the perspective of Australian landscapes and their management. This involved the identification of the key environmental axes and development of a proposed set of matrices involving various combinations of the axes, which was revised following consultation with stakeholders.

Results  We developed a framework based on the primary variables of climate and vegetation. For climate, we used an agro-climatic classification incorporating a moisture index, growth index and seasonality, with climate classes aligned to existing bioregions. Vegetation was broadly classified on the presence or absence of a tree layer and whether the understorey was grassy or shrub-dominated. Secondary variables were the degree of landscape alteration and modification. The sensitivity of broad categories to ecosystem dysfunction was assessed, and the relative abundance of different categories across Australia was determined. Not all categories need to be considered since not all combinations of variables occur.

Main conclusions  The framework provides a set of broad categories of landscapes with differing characteristics. We can then assess the importance of different types of threat in the different categories. By pulling together the potential threats in a systematic way across categories, we can start to consider what appropriate management responses might be in each case. Further, by providing a convenient way to compare landscapes in different categories, it becomes possible to see where generalizations among different landscapes may be possible and where they are definitely not likely to be helpful.