Every year in Australia, millions of dollars are spent on habitat restoration projects. Planting native trees in degraded landscapes is the most common form of ecosystem restoration. However, an obvious and sensitive question prompted by research is: Are revegetation initiatives just an expensive gardening exercise, or is biodiversity improved as a result of planting trees? Without proper monitoring and evaluation, resources will potentially continue to be wasted and nothing is learnt about past rehabilitation practices. Few restoration attempts are evaluated for their biodiversity benefits.
Terrestrial invertebrates are one important component of biodiversity and often promoted as bioindicators of choice in conservation management. They represent the majority of biodiversity, are important for many ecosystem services, and they respond quickly to change. However, they are also absent from most conservation monitoring programs for a number of reasons including the need for taxonomic expertise, and high costs due to specialised storage requirements.
Building on the BugWise resources that were developed in a previous project funded by the Coal & Allied Community Trust, the objectives of this project were:
• Build capacity of communities to be involved in scientifically valid biodiversity assessment and monitoring programs.
• Develop a greater understanding and increased application of BugWise methods for practical environmental monitoring regimes in the Hunter Valley.
• Increase the linkage between government, industry, volunteer and scientists as it relates to biodiversity assessment
The table below provides a list of the project activities set out in the funding agreement. The achievement of each activity—in line with the timeframe—enabled the project team to fulfil the projects objectives (as above) and deliverable outputs. Notably, these outputs were:
• An interactive web forum and news update feature was incorporated into the existing BugWise website. All workshop participants used the forum in some way (exceeding the target of 70%).
• 93 volunteers formally participated in the project, and over 200 DVDs and training manuals were distributed to community members and organisations.
• Participants who were trained at initial workshops exceeded the target (90%) accuracy in web-identification.
• Eight independent community-led monitoring sites were established to assess the diversity and abundance of web-builders. Results gleaned from these projects were used to recommend long-term monitoring strategies to address environmental issues and improvements in the Hunter Valley.
This concluding report builds on three progress reports submitted to the Trust (as specified in the project agreement), and provides a detailed overview of the work carried out. In addition to the requirements of the project:
• Several opportunities were harnessed to promote the current project (and the BugWise project generally) in the media and scientific conferences.
• Two additional and supplementary resources were developed including a new method of assessing the accuracy of observers, and a guide that allows identification of the spiders that make different web-types, and
• The BugWise program was steered in a direction that will ensure an even greater legacy beyond the end of the current project.
These issues and achievements are also included in this report.