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Ecological

The main focus of this research has been developing indicators for ecological communities including their condition, structure and function and perceptions of naturalness i.e. the extent of human modification to the environment. The ecologically focused integrated framework (and drawing on the IUCN-WCPA framework described previously) has also been a central part of this research.Read more

The main focus of this research has been developing indicators for ecological communities including their condition, structure and function and perceptions of naturalness i.e., the extent of human modification to the environment. The ecologically focused integrated framework (and drawing on the IUCN-WCPA framework described previously) has also been a central part of this research.

 

Specific research has focused on developing indicators for aquatic systems in protected areas. This research assesses the range of activities generally undertaken in and around aquatic sites and the potential indicators that may assist in detecting the effects of these activities. A suite of indicators is potentially useful for monitoring and assessing visitor impacts in and around aquatic ecosystems within protected areas:

 

  • Potential ecological indicators include filamentous algae counts, coliform counts, benthic metabolism, presence of exotic species, pins for measuring erosion, nutrient concentrations, turbidity; and
  • Potential social indicators include human waste, track widening, visitor noise, campsite capacity and management, visitor numbers, litter, modification of substrate and water flow.

The selection of indicators to assess visitor impacts in aquatic ecosystems is a complex and challenging task for managers of all natural areas with heavily visited aquatic ecosystems. Traditional water quality indicators may not be appropriate in the assessment of visitor impacts due to their spatial and temporal extent and anticipated lack of response to visitor activities and disturbances. On the basis of research by the STCRC it is recommended that protected area managers follow a six-step process to develop and implement monitoring programs assessing visitor impacts in and around aquatic ecosystems.



  1. Assess visitor activities and perceptions.
  2. Assess the physical and chemical and biological characteristics of sites.
  3. Propose indicators for use in a monitoring program using the approach detailed by Hadwen et al. (2008) and in relation to the findings of 1) and 2) above.
  4. With the assistance of aquatic ecologists, design indicator performance trials.
  5. On the basis of indicator trials, select a suite of appropriate indicators for the specific site and visitor activities and design a spatially and temporally defendable monitoring program around these indicators.
  6. Examine spatial and temporal trends in all indicators (social and environmental indicators) to examine the spatial extent and temporal persistence of visitor-mediated changes.

Other specific research has focused on Australia’s World Heritage Areas developing a framework, guidelines and tools to enhance the reporting and evaluation of visitor use. Key findings and conclusions include:

 

  • Recreation and tourism are recognised as appropriate uses of World Heritage Areas, with many of Australia’s World Heritage Areas having very high levels of visitation;
  • World Heritage Areas are generally better resourced than for other protected areas and therefore how these agencies research, assess and evaluate the pressures and threats associated with visitor management should represent Australian best practice;
  • While park agencies recognise the need to implement monitoring programs, systems and approached vary between agencies; and
  • Only a few park agencies have formal systems in place to implement adaptive management.
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