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Welcome to the last newsletter (but not the last communication) from ACEAS. Please take the time to read the information within about what to do next with your ACEAS-related research.

This newsletter highlights, as usual, the great creativity and productivity of the wide-ranging community that has come together under the ACEAS banner, since the first meeting in May 2010 (the NCEAS-ACEAS workshop), to the last, the ACEAS Grand Workshop Science making sense: the role of transdisciplinary synthesis.

Between these two points we have had the great pleasure of sponsoring many workshops, working groups and individual researchers, and it is pleasing to see recent outcomes for two of our first funded parties: the very exciting mammal data portal of the Vast Lands and Variable Data Working Group, and the VAST-2 Manual of our ACEAS Fellow, Richard Thackway. It takes time for outcomes to be developed, and I know that many more will eventuate in the months and years to come as a result of the intervention that ACEAS has been able to provide.

ACEAS has performed far beyond initial expectations in the four and a bit years it has been operational. This has been due to two things:

    (i) the commitment of the participants and their organisations who have co-funded every activity, and
    (ii) the enthusiasm and dedication of the ACEAS staff and Advisory Panel, and the backing of the TERN and University of Queensland staff who have supported us.
We think we have facilitated you to make significant inroads into important ecosystem science questions, and we hope we have empowered at least a few of those 730 people who have attended workshops to do better work with more people than would have been possible without their involvement in the ACEAS process.

I am tremendously proud to have been able to meet you all, work alongside you, and to assist you in your work. It has been a great privilege.
Alison Specht

ACEAS in Numbers

ACEAS has engaged with:
  • 82 International organisations from all sectors.
  • 31 Australian universities.
  • 17 Australian research organisations and CSIRO divisions.
  • 42 State, Local & Federal Government Agencies.
  • 32 CMA and NGOs.
  • 9 Private sector organisations.

Your questions answered.

What will happen to the ACEAS website?

By December 2014 the ACEAS website will close down, but all content that is a 'product' of the investment will continue to be available through the TERN website through the Facility link. Such items will include all group web pages, the publications page, and reports of workshops and special events such as the Forum at Questacon and Debate at RiAus. This transfer will be organised during the second half of 2014. Maintenance, updating and support beyond December 2014 will be dependent on TERN.

Will my data still be visible on the ACEAS portal?

The ACEAS portal is already linked to the TERN Data Discovery Portal and ACEAS-derived products will be visible and discoverable through that portal exactly as they are today, and linked to your group page which will be attached to the TERN website. Visualisations (as in the web map service) will be linked to both the individual group pages and the 'products and outcomes' web page as before.

I have some data to upload - who do I approach?

Until December 2014 please email and After then just This will be placed as a link on the ACEAS sub-pages of the TERN website for easy access.

If I have a new publication out - who do I tell?

Until December 2014 email and after that email

How do I continue acknowledging ACEAS in my future outputs?

Please insert the following into your Acknowledgements for any paper stemming from an ACEAS 'intervention':

This work was supported by the Australian Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, a facility of the Australian Government-funded Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network ( "

This acknowledgement should also go into any data uploads on a TERN or other data portal.

The Grand Workshop was held from the 7 – 9 May 2014 at the Shine Dome in Canberra. It was a remarkable event, with impressive presentations and stimulating discussions.

The aim of the workshop was to enable ACEAS groups to present their work, to meet with members of the wider ACEAS community and others, and to compare their first-hand experience with structured synthesis. The program was design to allow participants to:

  • think widely and deeply,
  • listen to hands-on experience,
  • reflect on the intervention,
  • engage in collaborative synthesis, and
  • consider and plan for the future.
The workshop was attended by 85 participants drawn mostly from the ACEAS community (project participants and associated staff).

The keynote presentation ‘Synthesis in science and society’ was given by Professor Michael Raupach, Executive Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute. Professor Raupach began by challenging the audience to contemplate what constituted synthesis. For Professor Raupach simply 'seeing the big picture' didn’t cut it. For him, an important part of synthesis was accounting for the interactions between elements of a more complex system. The challenge for synthesis is to contribute to the description and understanding of complex systems, teasing apart what constitutes an external driver and what constitutes an internal response or feedback.

Grand Workshop group photo

The opening plenary session continued with Professor Stephen Dovers from the Australian National University, Fenner School, who led a discussion on experience with synthesis. Perspectives of synthesis were provided from the medical health field by Professor Tony McMichael. (ANU) and, Dr Michael Vardon Director of the Australian Bureau of Statistics' Centre for Environmental Statistics. Steve came up with seven points for us to consider and return to on the last day.

The afternoon session on the first day covered the challenges of data management in synthesis projects, and provided an opportunity to hear the first- hand experience from a number of the ACEAS project groups. Dr Andrew Treloar from the Australian National Data Service followed this up with an expert summary and some great insights into the key experiences and challenges reported. Check out p.9 onwards of his presentation.

On day two of the workshop there was some ACEAS reflection with Professor Richard Price of Monash University and the RMCG team (authors of the ACEAS mid-term review and the current socio-economic study respectively), followed by presentations from the groups under the themes of Biodiversity, Management and Water. The presentations can be viewed here : search for ‘ACEAS Grand’ and you will see a treasure trove of presentations.

In the evening the Dome was buzzing with a poster and portal display. The new Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge web site was launched by Dr Margo Neale of the National Museum of Australia. The mammal data portal continued to provide much interest on its first outing. This was followed by the Hypothetical, more of which in another part of this Newsletter.

Grand Workshop poster

The final plenary session was an opportunity for us to reflect on the questions Steve Dovers had posed. Three panellists, Jeremy Russell-Smith, Michelle Waycott and Bob Costanza had been tasked with presenting their reflections and initiating discussion under the guidance of Mark Flanigan. Discussion was so energetic we nearly missed lunch!

ACEAS has published data products as outputs from a number of working groups. Most have been spatially visualized, the datasets and metadata downloadable and citable using Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs). The ACEAS Data Portal can be used as an interactive resource for managers and decision makers by allowing easy access to important information. The following data products are currently available:

  • Animal Telemetry Projects
  • Australasian Pollen Aerobiology
  • Conserving Koalas in the 21st Century
  • Fire Regime Niches
  • Noisy Miner Presence
  • Transformational Change of Regional Landscapes
  • Vegetation Transformation Study Sites
They can be accessed at:

The mammal visualisation can be accessed at:

ACEAS Portal

New Website: Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge
The ACEAS working group Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge has produced a website to show the wealth of projects, research and management plans about this topic. This website is a platform for the community, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, to better appreciate the spatial and temporal information from indigenous knowledge that can be utilised for decision-making and research.

Visit the website, which is designed to become the property of the indigenous community in the near future.

Several interviews have been given about this important work, and one, with Philip Clarke, can be heard here.

Final Reports
The value of the ACEAS final reports has been much discussed. Their inception was a response, among other things, to the time-frame associated with publishing outputs in refereed journals.

Alison therefore instituted: (i) meeting reports, in line with many other synthesis centres, and (ii) the final reports, which are a précis of the work done in a downloadable format for easy access, and printing for conference stands, meetings and other communication purposes. After the recent Grand Workshop, where the final reports were displayed in poster format, Sara Phillips of the ABC stated:

The poster displays produced by ACEAS scientist neatly distill complex studies into a form readily digestible by time-poor journalists. I particularly like the format including sections such as 'project objectives', 'major findings' and 'how this will affect Australian ecosystems science and management'. This cuts to the heart of the messaging journalists aim to deliver to their audience, namely: why this study is important. It achieves concise communication - something so much science attempts but falls short of.

Download the ACEAS final reports from the website, and see the full 22.

There should be a couple more final reports available soon, so keep an eye out.

Papers and Presentations
ACEAS groups have published 14 peer-reviewed journal articles to date, with 6 of those in journals with an impact factor above 6. One Special Issue has been produced, catalysed by an ACEAS Workshop, and another is due to come out quite soon. A Special Issue is planned as an outcome of the ACEAS Grand Workshop 2014, which will occupy several of us in the near future, and will be a great ‘festschrift’ for ACEAS. Of course, more papers will continue to emerge over time, and we look forward to seeing these posted up through ACEAS and TERN web sites long into the future.

Workshop and Session Sponsorship
ACEAS has sponsored synthesis in other ways than through Working Groups and Workshops.

ESA annual conferences
2010 Long-term, trans-scale, integrated monitoring of Australian landscapes
2011 Talks on the Wildside
2012 Smarter Workflows for Ecologists

Events at TERN Symposia
2012 The ACEAS Great Debate
2013 Ideas and Influence
2013 INTECOL – Antipodean Reconnaissance (scroll down to the article in the newsletter)

And of course we have the following…

The Hypothetical was a thought-provoking closing session for the Grand Workshop in May, and in case you missed it or would like to recap some of the arguments it is now on YouTube.

The ‘Hypothetical’ format was used in the 1980s by Geoffrey Robertson QC as an entertaining way to explore important social issues; a way to stimulate thinking about difficult and complex questions in an amusing fashion. In this case, an hypothetical case study (about a new potential fuel called CASE) was established that required input from a range of experts from science and elsewhere in order for a wise decision on its development to be made.

Nick Rowley, whom some may remember from the 2013 Forum ‘Ideas and Influence’, devised and ably led the event, with Janet Davies, Corey Bradshaw and Richard Thackway playing key scientists, Dan Faith playing the role of Chief Scientist, Sue Ogilvy playing the Prime Minister, and Sara Phillips playing a member of the news media.

The protagonists were led through the discovery and potential exploitation of CASE, which has much potential for a sustainable future of Australia, our national income, and jobs for regional Australia.

The scientists initially respond with some scepticism (click to jump to this part of the video) but also some enthusiasm and hubris). CASE, a new super fuel, begins to gain a lot of media attention with a new backer, but also some adverse scientific attention. The Prime Minister steps in to find out more, and the Chief Scientist begins to prepare the case with the initial idea that Australia has the potential to take an international lead on CASE (and a possible Nobel Prize for himself). The call is to synthesise the cacophony of input.

The scenario finishes with a determination by the Prime Minister and, with it, the most interesting phase for the media is about to commence. Questions from the audience, at the Shine Dome and from afar, included whether scientists should engage more in politics and if so, how, and the role of citizen science in these days of reduced budgets.

At the close of the Hypothetical the players reflect upon the changes in their characters during the process, and indeed the role of an Hypothetical in decision-making.

Corey felt that as a scientific tool it was irrelevant as it was not ‘science’, but as a training mechanism it had potential.

Sue thought burying oneself in an hypothetical scenario is very valuable in helping to make decisions.

The experience was generally thought to have been positive and definitely entertaining. A marvellous set of players, and well worth watching.

Grand Workshop Hypothetical Video

Grand Workshop group photo


Contact: Alison Specht | ACEAS Facility Director |

TERN is supported by the Australian Government through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and the Super Science Initiative.