2017 Jill Landsberg Trust Fund Scholarship winner

Congratulations to Al Healy the winner of the 2017 Jill Landsberg Trust Fund Scholarship.

Al HealyAl’s research aims to improve the ecological understanding of the interaction between water availability, vegetation cover and composition, and associated impacts on threatened biodiversity in landscapes with highly variable water availability. He is excited to receive the Jill Landsberg scholarship, which will assist him to conduct fieldwork in Queensland’s Simpson Desert and Channel Country.

Water availability and vegetation communities in Queensland's arid zones: Mapping subtle but critical changes across time and space

Project summary

In Australia’s arid zone, small, higher productivity patches provide an important resource for arid specialist species such as the endangered Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis). Identifying the availability of these resources through time and space requires accurate, consistent maps of variation in vegetation productivity. In rainfall-driven arid environments, different vegetation types respond at different rates, with some grasses and forbs responding to even small rainfall events while others require high rainfall events to green, flower and seed. Despite the critical importance of rain events for driving food and shelter resources for wildlife, there are no fine-scale maps delineating the rapidly-responding vegetation types from other more slowly-responding vegetation. Without these maps, scientists, land managers and policy makers are unable to predict where, when and how patterns of rain and subsequent vegetation productivity might lead to critical food and shelter resources changing for key species of conservation concern.

This project fills this key knowledge gap by developing the first fine-scale classification of dynamic arid vegetation communities. This project will measure different rates of vegetation greening response across multiple arid vegetation communities, through digital repeat photography (phenocams) and ground-based measurements of floristic composition and phenological phase. In combination with satellite-derived data, the project will classify vegetation communities according to spatial and temporal dynamics. This will allow identification of small higher productivity patches that are too small or change too rapidly to be mapped by current landscape-scale categorisations but are likely critical functional habitats for multiple arid-zone species. As well as improving understanding of fine scale variation in productivity, the project will directly support identification of potentially suitable habitat for the endangered and poorly-known Night Parrot. This detailed examination of rainfall response will be complemented by my research into the response of vegetation to changes in grazing pressure due to changes in surface water availability. This builds on the important work by Jill Landsberg in identifying the increased extent of grazing pressure and other biodiversity impacts due to the development of artificial water points in arid Australia.

JFTL 2017 Award Winner