Open Cut » Environment
Biodiversity is defined as the variety of all life on earth. This definition includes the diversity and range of fundamental ecosystem functions, such as carbon, water and nutrient cycling in vegetation and soils. Ecosystem functions provide a range of important ecosystem goods and services, such as clean water and a regulated climate, which benefit humankind. Human impacts on biodiversity have tripled the extinction rate of species over the last 15 years.
Mining companies recognise the relationships between economic development and environmental sustainability and the impact this relationship has on the willingness of society to grant access to land and natural resources. Commitment to the goal of sustainable development is stated clearly in the environmental reports and biodiversity policies of the four major mining companies contributing to the present study (BHP Billiton - Mitsubishi Alliance, Rio Tinto, Anglo American and Xstrata). Current 'best practice' approaches to manage biodiversity involve interventions that increase vegetation cover, or protect species representation. However, there are no quantitative means of assessing whether these interventions are actually effective in maintaining ecosystem function in landscapes. Therefore, a gap exists between the industry's aspirations to improve 'biodiversity value', on the one hand, and ensuring the sustainability of important ecosystem functions that supply ecosystem goods and services on the other.
There are four major knowledge areas that need to be strengthened in order to quantify these benefits:
- An improved ability to characterise species functional attributes and incorporate these into biophysical models of landscape-scale ecosystem function;
- The development of biodiversity conservation and rehabilitation methods that maintain the biogeochemical and ecological integrity of regions;
- The acquisition of extensive observational data on the structure and function of vegetation communities within landscapes; and
- The development of decision-support systems capable of incorporating biodiversity value and ecosystem goals and services into landscape-scale management decisions.
This project aimed to develop a methodology that could examine and quantify the costs and benefits of biodiversity interventions, both within and beyond mining leases. It utilised an extensive range of spatial datasets, advanced biophysical modelling and spatial optimisation methods to explore various management goals and quantify trade-offs that occur when undertaking different re-vegetation strategies. This is the first time spatial optimisation methodologies have been used in the context of ecosystem re-vegetation in a landscape where mining and agriculture are the major land uses. The region of interest is part of the Fitzroy River catchment, central Queensland.
In summary, government policy is developing in ways that will require greater understanding of scientific information by mining companies for the effective management of biodiversity goals. Community expectations extend beyond simple measures of rarity and now require assurance from governments and industry that landscape-scale ecosystem goods and services will be maintained. Mining companies recognise the importance of biodiversity management for long-term industry sustainability and maintenance of the social license to operate; however, the industry does not have the requisite decision-support systems or tools to enable landscape-scale investments in re-vegetation that maximise return on investments in biodiversity values. In addition, ecological theory is relatively poorly developed in explaining relationships between biodiversity, functional diversity and ecosystem services. This is a barrier towards better land management decisions. Ultimately, all decisions involve trade-offs between biodiversity, ecosystem services and socio-economic management goals. Understanding these trade-offs requires better capability at quantifying the social, environmental and economic value of ecosystem goods and services.
This project has provided the first step for the mining industry to better understand the potential trade-offs that may occur and the opportunities that might exist when coordinated and strategic re-vegetation programs are implemented through cooperation among companies for the benefit of the industry, environment and society. Successful completion of this project has laid the ground work for:
- The development of operational tools for use by mine environmental managers to improve knowledge of the impacts of mining and associated land management (i.e. re-vegetation interventions) on biodiversity, ecosystem functions and ecosystem services;
- Guiding decision making in terms of re-vegetation options for biodiversity conservation and enabling informed debate among stakeholders both within the mining industry and in other sectors of society; and
- Providing quantitative and systematic decision-support tools to allow the implementation of effective and efficient management strategies that will improve biodiversity conservation, maintenance of ecosystem functions and ecosystem services to support human well-being.