Darwin’s Experiment in the WA Outback

Jennifer: Charles Darwin’s great grandson has invested $300 000 in a disused cattle station north-east of Perth. Chris Darwin’s donation to the Conservation Council of WA and Bush Heritage Australia enabled the purchase of the land, which is Australia’s only internationally recognised “biodiversity hotspot”. The property, named the “Charles Darwin Reserve”, is located in a sharp transition zone between the wheatbelt and arid Austin region.

The reserve is the location for the Charles Darwin Observatory Project. The project, launched on August 25, was developed to initiate long-term research into plant and animal survival in Australia. It will examine the effect of climate change on Western Australia’s flora and fauna over the next thirty years.

A two-year survey of the wildlife and vegetation on the reserve has recently been completed, establishing which species are especially vulnerable and therefore key indicators for shifts in climate. The short term aim of the project is to establish a biological baseline and basic infrastructure to facilitate long-term monitoring of biological and ecological responses in wildlife to climate change. The results of such long-term monitoring will be used to improve climate change modelling and will be instrumental in developing biodiversity conservation strategies.

According to the Conservation Council, less than one percent of published research on the impact of climate change on global biodiversity is from the southern hemisphere. The launch of the Charles Darwin Observatory Project bodes well for biodiversity conservation in Australia, in the face of anthropogenic climate change.

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