Integrated Ecosystems Condition Assessment
|Full Title||Aquatic Ecosystems Toolkit Module 5: Integrated Ecosystems Condition Assessment (IECA) Framework for Aquatic Ecosystems|
Project Leader: Ben Gawne|
Project Coordinator: Christine Reid
|Funding Body||Australian Government Department of the Environment|
|Duration||Phase 2: 1 year|
Through the implementation of National Water Initiative clause 25 x), it is expected that water planning frameworks will support management of water resources to protect and enhance the values of high ecological value aquatic ecosystems. The ecological values of an aquatic ecosystem are underpinned by its ecological health and a decline in health can seriously undermine those values.
The IECA Framework (or “the Framework”) is being developed in response to the increasing and changing demands being placed on managers of water-dependent ecosystems. Current river and wetland health assessment methods cannot effectively demonstrate if improvements to ecological health are related to management interventions, nor are they effective at diagnosing which threats are most important in causing decline or preventing recovery. The Framework builds on current approaches to broad-scale and asset-based condition assessments to meet these needs.
The Framework seeks to support the adaptive management of water-dependent ecosystems through the development of a condition assessment framework that will increase a manager’s capacity to report on improvements, over time, in ecological condition in response to management interventions, including the provision of environmental flows.
In addition, the Framework seeks to improve the value of condition assessments through the development of a diagnostic capacity that will enable identification of the key threats, pressures and stressors that can, independently or synergistically, adversely impact on aquatic ecosystem condition and impede or prevent improvement. The ability to assess condition within the context of multiple stressors and pressures will be important in setting realistic objectives and targets for water management and complementary natural resource management, particularly as the climate changes.
The evolution of condition assessment capacity through the Framework will improve a manager’s capacity to prioritise issues, identify knowledge gaps, enable targeted research, and undertake adaptive management and effective intervention. An IECA Framework developed for a particular aquatic asset/aquatic system will be adaptive so that identified information gaps can be addressed as the knowledge base increases and assumptions are tested.
In summary, key objectives of the IECA Framework include:
- Building on current approaches to broad-scale and asset-based condition assessments.
- Incorporating different connected aquatic ecosystem types (e.g. rivers, floodplains, lakes, marshes and estuaries), and the key ecosystem functions that support them.
- Basing the Framework on the functional processes and ecological characteristics (e.g. components and processes) that underpin an aquatic asset’s key ecological values.
- Allowing transparent comparisons of the condition of diverse aquatic ecosystem types.
- Taking into account connectivity, resilience, natural variability and where appropriate, threats and pressures.
- Allowing condition to be evaluated and reported in relation to risks, thresholds and management actions to aid adaptive management.
- Assisting in identifying critical knowledge gaps and in prioritising management actions and research needs.
- Providing a systematic, cost-effective, practical, flexible and repeatable process that can fit into existing Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Frameworks.
The IECA Framework is intended to be used in systems where data availability is sparse, as well as in well-studied systems. Managers of aquatic assets will be able to adapt the Framework to suit their own budgets, needs and purposes. In addition, the Framework will provide a starting point to build upon over time, as budgets allow.
The Aquatic Ecosystem Task Group (AETG) anticipated that development of the framework will be through an iterative process and a phased approach, involving a number of successive projects within jurisdictions. With this in mind, as well as the need for dedicated time and technical input to guided framework development, the AETG referred development to the National Water Commission’s FARWH National Technical Steering Committee. When this Committee ceased (August 2011), the IECA Technical Steering Committee was formed to guide and progress framework development.
Prior to the successful Victorian Icon site trial, two earlier ‘proof of concept’ trials were undertaken, however, the IECA concept could not be adequately developed and tested in either project due to lack of data. One project was in the temperate wet coastal Walpole Normalup region of south-west Western Australia, encompassing estuarine, river and wetland ecosystems. The other project was in the arid Cooper Creek catchment in the Queensland portion of the Lake Eyre Basin, encompassing river, wetlands and GDEs. A third earlier project in the lower Murrumbidgee River was discontinued.
The IECA Framework manual will form Module 5 of the national Aquatic Ecosystems Toolkit. It will be available later in 2015.