Tropical Savannas CRC > Research > CRC Research 2001-2008 > Pastoral > Biodiversity on grazing lands

Biodiversity on grazing lands

Leader: Alaric Fisher, Parks & Wildlife Commission NT, Darwin

Full title: Refining methods for off-reserve conservation of biodiversity in tropical savanna rangelands
Project 2.1.2

Summary | Rangelands and regions | Objectives | Approach and methods | Documenting biodiversity values | Characterising the response of biota | Communication materials and activities | Working with land managers  | Management scenarios | Integration of biodiversity conservation | Links | Outputs | Project team |


This project addresses the question of how biodiversity values can be maintained in land where the primary use is not conservation, particularly the large area of tropical savanna currently used for grazing stock.

Maintaining biodiversity in most ecosystems within the tropical savannas depends upon the ecologically sustainable management of lands outside the formal conservation reserve system.

While there is widespread recognition of this imperative among many land managers and Natural Resource Management agencies, there is still a poor understanding of how to manage to maintain biodiversity values within grazing systems (and in the context of other land uses).

Correcting this becomes increasingly important as pastoral use is intensified and grazing pressure is applied evenly and universally across the landscape.

Recent research by CSIRO & PWCNT suggests that leaving a regional network of lightly- or non-grazed land is an appropriate conservation management approach in at least some rangelands. However, many issues relating to the detail of applying this approach remain unresolved. For example, what total area of land (in a regional context) should be retained as lightly grazed? Would lowering stocking rates or rotational grazing have similar conservation benefits to setting land aside from grazing? How is non-grazed lands to be managed? What components of biodiversity cannot be adequately protected by this approach? Neither is the above approach necessarily applicable to all rangelands type, particularly where there is abundant natural water; where landscape heterogeneity is high; or where there are no remnants of land subject to low stocking pressure.

Rangelands and regions

This project aims to develop frameworks and guidelines for the conservation of biodiversity on grazed lands in a variety of rangeland types.

The project will encompass a number of regions characterised by different ecosystems and enterprise types, and build on current or proposed ecological research in these regions. Conservation management actions need to be applied both at a property level and, in a coordinated fashion, at a regional scale. Development of regional frameworks or guidelines that guarantee biodiversity conservation will be an essential part of the development of environmental accreditation schemes for the northern beef industry. The project seeks to identify where the thresholds for ecologically sound performance should be set at both enterprise and regional levels

While some of the project objectives will be met by modelling using existing data, additional sampling of biodiversity in a number of regions and rangeland types will be required. The participation of landowners and managers will be essential, and the project will expand on the links currently being developed with companies such as Heytesbury Beef and North Australia Pastoral and in regions such as the Desert Uplands, Burdekin catchment, Cape York Peninsula, Sturt Plateau and Roper catchment and Ord-Bonaparte region.


The project directly addresses the CRC’s key objective of providing scientifically sound principles for the sustainable management of the tropical savannas and will assess the costs and benefits of a range of management options in a variety of regions in northern Australia. The project directly addresses the Key Result Areas of management strategies for grazing, and environmental management systems and codes of practice; and will feed into predictive models of landscape function and impacts of interventions; policy and management options for multiple land use; and land administration and management options for multiple land use.

More specifically it will:

  • Investigate the response of a range of biota to different levels of land use intensity in a number of rangeland types in the northern savannas;
  • Identify species or groups of species that are most susceptible to decline under current land management regimes, and if possible identify management thresholds for the retention of susceptible species;
  • Describe the implications for biodiversity of a range of land management strategies, particularly intensification of pastoral use;
  • Develop land-management scenarios at property and regional scales that will maximise the retention (or recovery) of biodiversity under a range of management regimes in a number of rangeland types;
  • Incorporate analyses of economic cost/benefit into consideration of conservation management scenarios;
  • Establish additional monitoring schemes to evaluate their effectiveness, where there has been uptake of off-reserve conservation management scenarios,
  • Provide protocols for proper accounting for biodiversity values within the context of Environmental Management Systems for grazed lands

Approach and methods

This project will focus on a number of regions across the tropical savannas that encompass a range of ecosystems, tenures, levels of pastoral development, and levels of ecological integrity. These are also regions where the TS or TSM CRC have or will undertake management studies, and/or where relevant ecological research has been or will be undertaken, and/or where there has been opportunity to constructively engage with individual landholders or land management groups. This currently includes the Barkly Tableland (NT), Sturt Plateau (NT), Roper catchment (NT), Victoria River District (NT), Dalrymple Shire/Burdekin catchment (QLD), Desert Uplands (QLD) and Cape York Peninsula (QLD). The potential for work in other regions of northwestern Queensland and the Kimberley (WA) will be investigated in 02/03

There are six components to the project:

Documenting biodiversity values on grazing lands, at property or regional levels

This will involve collating data from previous studies (eg. Sturt Plateau, Desert Uplands); collecting additional data in selected regions (eg. Roper catchment); and presenting information in appropriate forms to land managers. A major function of these component is to engage land managers in the process and describing and valuing biodiversity values;

Characterising the response of biota to different levels of land-use intensity

This will involve the collation of existing data, analysis of information gaps and then targeted field studies. These may involve sampling along biosphere gradients; cross-fence comparisons; sampling recently destocked areas; and paddock-scale and property- scale comparisons of areas assessed to be in different ‘condition’. Biota sampled will include vascular plants, vertebrates and selected invertebrate taxa (ants, termites, carabid beetles, grasshoppers, spiders). Field studies will be strategically selected to maximise their value as “demonstration” studies that can illustrate the implications for biodiversity values of different land management regimes;

Communication materials and activities that promote off-reserve conservation

The major aim of this component is to provide easily-accessible material that engages pastoral managers, agency staff and other stakeholders and promotes implementation of off-reserve conservation management. Material will include information sheets and, by the end of the project, a DPIF-style book describing biodiversity conservation on pastoral land. Activities include presentations to land management groups, government agencies and participation in education and extension courses

Working with land managers to implement conservation management arrangements and monitoring their effectiveness

PWCNT is currently working with land managers in a number of regions (VRD, Roper, Sturt, Barkly) to implement off-reserve conservation management arrangements. This project will pursue that implementation and assess their effectiveness by periodic resampling at permanent monitoring points. Where possible, the management arrangements will be structured to address issues raised in the objectives above. In 2002/03, the project will aim to develop similar arrangements in at least two selected regions in northern Queensland, as well as monitoring the implementation of conservation management agreements in Cape York Peninsula

Development of management scenarios for enhancing biodiversity conservation

Drawing on data from (i) - (iii) above and projects in Theme 1, a range of management scenarios will be developed that maximise the probability of biodiversity retention (or recovery) in each region, ecosystem and enterprise type. Two important features of this component will be:

  • parameterising responses of biota to land use for use in landscape function models (Project 1.1.1), in order to model biodiversity costs and benefits of alternative conservation management scenarios
  • developing economic models to examine the relative economic costs & benefits of alternative conservation management scenarios

Conservation management scenarios and economic cost-benefit analyses will be developed in close consultation with land managers in the respective regions. Where land managers proceed to an implementation stage, monitoring sites will be established and data will feed back into component (ii) above.

Integration of biodiversity conservation considerations into an environmental management system context

This component will be developed in the latter stages of the project in collaboration with the Project 2.2.1, Beef Industry Best Practice.  In particular, this component will examine how conservation management actions can be coordinated at a regional scale, and attempt to determine enterprise- and regional-level thresholds for ecologically sustainable performance.

The project directly involves staff from three conservation management agencies (NT PWCNT, QPWS & QEPA) as well as CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems. Strong links have also been developed with staff in other NRM agencies in the tropical savannas as well as some landholders and producer groups, and these links will be strengthened as the project progresses.


This project is designed to address issues relating to Best Practice management and properly accounting for biodiversity within an Environmental Management System, and therefore has strong links to other TS-CRC Projects in Theme 2 (2.1.2, 2.1.4, 2.2.1). The project will use data derived in Theme 1 projects (1.1.4, 1.2.2, 2.2.3) and provide data and management scenarios inputs to Project 1.1.1.

In conjunction with NT DBIRD and CSIRO SE, PWCNT has applied for funding from Meat & Livestock Australia to support one component of this project, that investigates the biodiversity implications of intensification of pastoral management in the Victoria River District. This aspect of the project has also received strong support from Heytesbury Beef.


  • Frameworks for most effectively integrating biodiversity conservation into management of grazed lands in the tropical savannas;
  • Advice to land managers on cost-effective methods for biodiversity conservation across a variety of land types;
  • Development of appropriate monitoring systems to measure effectiveness of conservation management;
  • Integration of biodiversity conservation into best management practice at an enterprise scale;
  • Incorporation of biodiversity conservation issues into environmental management systems at a regional scale.

Project team

Alaric Fisher, DIPE (PWCNT)
Jenni Risler, DIPE (PWCNT)
Damian Milne, DIPE (PWCNT)
Alex Kutt, QPWS
QPWS Rangers, QPWS
Murray Whitehead, QEPA
Gethin Morgan, QEPA
Sharon King, QEPA
Mal Lorimer, QEPA
Peter Latch, QPWS
Stephen Garnett, QPWS
Alan Andersen, CSIRO SE
Tony Hertog, CSIRO SE
Lyn Lowe, CSIRO SE


Dr Alaric Fisher
Senior Scientist
NT Dept Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts & Sport
Tel: 08 8995 5000

Fax: 08 8995 5099

PO Box 496

Dr Alex Kutt
CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems
Tel: 07 4753 8547

Fax: 07 4753 8600

Davies Laboratory, Private Mail Bag PO