Regional fauna survey data – the importance of a good fauna survey database

The EPA (2002; p12) indicates that it expects proponents and their environmental consultants to provide sufficient information in their fauna survey reports to address biodiversity conservation and ecological functional values. Position Statement No 3 (EPA 2002)  goes on to say best practice assessments require that biodiversity be considered to have two key aspects, namely its biodiversity value at the genetic, species, and ecosystem levels; and its ecological functional value at the ecosystem level. Within this context, the EPA (2002, 2004)  indicated that it expects terrestrial biological surveys will be made publicly available, which sadly does not always occur until proponents are required to do so to obtain approvals for their project (Australian Venture Consultants 2012) .

EPA (2004) Guidance Statement No 56 indicates that a regional context is required for all reported fauna survey data. Clearly, a species list for the bioregion or the area adjacent to the proposed development is inadequate and an indication of the relative abundance of species is required, preferably based on habitat types. These data enable the proponent to discuss the adequacy of their surveys and the potential impact of a disturbance on the fauna in a bioregional context.

This regional context must come from survey data in adjacent areas. Museum records can be useful in providing a species list, but rarely indicate the structure of the fauna assemblage in adjacent areas. Searches of NatureMap again mostly provide a species list without an indication of relative abundance, and searches of this database provide no indication of the source of the data and the comprehensiveness of these surveys. So until such time as there is a publically accessible state-wide fauna survey database as encouraged by the EPA (2002; p14), environmental consultants must develop and maintain their own databases if they wish to adequately assess impacts in a regional context.

Government assessors would also benefit from access to a centralised state-wide fauna survey database. If they could quickly verify the presence or otherwise of conservation significant species in areas adjacent to a proposed development site, or rapidly access information on the diversity and abundance of fauna in a particular area then this would significantly enhance the quality of impact assessments.

Fauna survey databases are expensive to establish, as they require custom written software to be developed, and then there is the arduous task of collecting reports from a variety of sources, reconfiguring the data and typing it into the database. Graphical representation of the information in the database is a very useful output. The capacity to plot the location of conservation significant species relative to a particular development site provides a very useful context. Many conservation significant species have specific habitat requirements, that are not always well understood, and their geographical distribution can be patchy and often poorly known. Given the lack of a centralised state-wide fauna survey database that provides environmental consultants with this contextual information, they are forced to develop and maintain their own databases.

Small and specialised consultancies often find this task too much for their enterprise and they are forced to rely on species lists generated out museum databases or from NatureMap. Because of our focus on quantitative scientific reporting, Terrestrial Ecosystems has developed its own database and utilises this resource for all reporting.

When do you think we will get a publically accessible state-wide fauna survey database which provides all the data necessary to achieve the aims of the EIA process?

References

Australian Venture Consultants. 2012. Pathway to an Enhanced Western Australian Terrestrial Biodiversity Knowledge System. Preliminary Assessment of Issues, Challenges, Capabilities and Key Design Considerations. Perth.

Environmental Protection Authority. 2002. Terrestrial Biological Surveys as an Element of Biodiversity Protection: Position Statement No. 3. Environment Protection Authority, Perth.

Environmental Protection Authority. 2004. Guidance for the Assessment of Environmental Factors. Terrestrial Fauna Surveys for Environmental Impact Assessment in Western Australia No. 56. Perth.

 

 

Scott

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