Australian National University Biodiversity Initiatives

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Type: Policy

Status: Ongoing

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Biodiversity conservation and management on campus is one of the newest areas of environmental management undertaken by the ANU. With the Acton campus sited within an urban catchment the Biodiversity component of the ANUgreen program has predominantly focused on developing an understanding of the role of biodiversity in urban landscapes, or ‘urban biodiversity’.

What is Biodiversity and how is it relevant to urban communities?
'Biodiversity' is the variety of all living things: species, genes, populations, communities and ecosystems, and their many interactions with each other and their environment (both physical and chemical).

Biodiversity and the many ecosystems it supports provide a suite of services that allow humans to live in comfort, whether you live in the city or the country. Many of these services, known as ecosystem services, we cannot live without. Losses to biodiversity can impair ecosystem function and result in a loss or erosion of the services they provide.

A field of growing interest world wide, ‘urban biodiversity’ seeks to understand how biodiversity promotes and maintains landscape health and human wellbeing through the provision of ecosystem services.

With the rapid increase in urban populations worldwide (current estimates by the United Nations estimate that in 2007 over 50% of the worlds population live in urban settlements, with this figure reaching just over 90% in Australia), the maintenance of sufficient landscapes to maintain ecosystem services in urban settlements is set to provide a challenge for scientists, planners, governments and communities well into this century.

ANU biodiversity initiatives

Lower Sullivans Creek Catchment Ecological Survey
Australia's first comprehensive ecological survey of an urban study site, the LSCCES commenced in 2002 and aimed to learn more about the fauna of the urban sub-catchment, and the role of urban landscapes in providing habitat for local species.

The results of fauna surveys were launched in October 2006 along with Urban Habitat Guidelines for the ACT. The habitat guidelines aim to enhance understanding of the importance of urban habitat, and include:

  • principles for managing urban habitat,
  • steps to reduce human induced threats to urban biodiversity,
  • practical guidelines for developing habitat gardens and landscapes, and
  • links to ACT specific information, educational resources and contacts.

Life in the Suburbs
The Life in the Suburbs project is an initiative of the Australian National University (ANU) in partnership with the ACT Government, the Australian National Botanical Gardens (ANBG), CSIRO, National Museum of Australia, National Capital Authority, and the Sullivans Creek Catchment Group. The initiative is supported by the Australian Government’s Natural Heritage Trust.

University Biodiversity Plan
The University is in the process of compiling a draft biodiversity management plan, based on the discoveries of the biodiversity survey and in recognition of the importance of biodiversity on campus.

The University's biodiversity plan will:

  • identify the ecological resources on campus, including flora and fauna (plants and animals), landscapes and ecosystems;
  • develop processes by which ecological values can be integrated into landscape design and planning processes;
  • ensure the University is meeting its legal obligations under local and Commonwealth environmental protection and biodiversity legislation; and
  • enhance the campus community’s understanding of biodiversity and its role in urban settlements.

Phenomics Ephemeral Habitat: a landscape initiative
In 2004, ANUgreen staff initiated a collaborative project with the Australian Phenomics Facility project team to incorporate ecological values into the landscape surrounding the new Phenomics Facility.

In consultation with frog specialist, Dr. Donna Hazell (formerly of CRES), and ANU Gardens and Grounds staff, a landscape feature was designed to allow water to slowly infiltrate into the soil, creating a seasonal water body. The design incorporates habitat features, including hollow logs, rocks and native flora to provide year-round habitat for small reptiles, frogs, and the invertebrates they feed on.

Near the end of construction, a Whistling Tree Frog (Litoria verreauxii verreauxii) was sighted in the landscape. The whistling tree frog had not been recorded on ANU grounds previously. Recordings of the species in the adjacent Australian National Botanic Gardens would suggest that the frog dispersed to the site from the gardens.