Australia to Cut Funding for Long-Term Ecological Research

The Simpson Desert in the Australian Outback.

The Simpson Desert in the Australian Outback. Enjosmith/Flickr

The Australian government is planning to eliminate funding for all 12 of its long-term ecological study sites by the end of the year, according to a letter in the journal Science by 69 scientists who denounced the decision.

The sites include rainforest, swamps, alpine, coastal, and desert ecosystems, including the 3,000-square-mile Simpson Desert in the Australian Outback. The more than 1,100 long-term studies they support have been critical in furthering scientists’ understanding of environmental problems and processes such as invasive species, plant succession, and ecosystems’ responses to climate change.

“In a country like Australia, which is facing huge challenges with climate change, with expanding populations, with major pressures on its water supplies and land area — we’re not going to be able to predict anything about the status of our environmental assets,” said David Lindenmayer, the program’s science director, lead signatory of the Science letter, and an ecologist at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Lindenmayer told Nature that the loss of federal funding would likely force six of 12 sites to close down. As Nature noted, the Australian government’s decision comes at a time when most nations are boosting their support for long-term ecological research, particularly in the face of global warming. The U.S. National Science Foundation, for example, announced it would add three new monitoring sites to its 25 existing ones.