TERN: addressing the global challenge of ecosystem responses to climate variability and change

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There is an urgent need to understand and predict how the world around us is affected by climate change and the extremes of droughts and flooding rains. The Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy NCRIS addresses this need through projects such as the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network TERN, amongst others.

I and co-authors recently reviewed Australia’s progress for predicting ecosystem change in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Research inspired by TERN’s environmental research infrastructure has led to great advances in understanding the role fire, aridity, drought, heatwave, floods and climate change have played in shaping the Australian landscape. In turn, these climatic forces on Australian ecosystems carry impacts far beyond our shores.

Australian vegetation is highly resilient to climate variability, showing extraordinary productivity during wet extremes and the opposite during drought. However, some ecosystems appear to be approaching a tipping point as climate continues to change. Warming of refugia where climate-sensitive plants have survived Australia’s wild weather is pushing these species towards their limits of survival. The future is not completely dire, though, due to advances in climate-adjusted conservation enabled by TERN infrastructure.

TERN is not alone in the world addressing the prediction of ecosystem change. To foster cooperation amongst environmental infrastructure organisations, TERN and partners in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe have come together with the goal of providing publicly available, model-ready observations of ecosystem form and function. In this Global Environmental Research Infrastructure GERI, the global challenge of predicting climate impacts on ecosystem change is well under way.

Paper: Cleverly J., Eamus D., Edwards W., Grant, M., Grundy, M.J., Held, A., Karan, M., Lowe, A.J., Prober, S.M., Sparrow, B. and Morris, B. (2019) TERN, Australia’s land observatory: addressing the global challenge of forecasting ecosystem responses to climate variability and change. Environmental Research Letters 14 (2019) 095004.