Full ecological impacts of resource development: a hot topic

I was recently invited to write a ‘hot topic’ article for the Ecological Society of Australia, to provide an evidence-based synthesis of a timely and relevant issue in ecology and environmental policy. It was an interesting process synthesising the story, and I’ve received a lot of very interested feedback from people inspired by the article.

Click here for the article.

Key points of the article are:

  • Resource development is expanding worldwide with far-reaching consequences for native ecosystems.
  • Some ecological impacts tend to slip under the radar of conventional impact assessments.
  • Identifying, measuring, and addressing the full range of ecological impacts is essential for mitigating ecosystem degradation and for conserving biodiversity.

The article also provides an overview of literature relevant to the topic.

mine orthoview

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Decision Point

I’ve just had an article published in Decision Point, the bimonthly magazine of the Australia Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED). It presents news and views on environmental decision making, biodiversity, conservation planning and monitoring.

Raiter 2018 Lines in the Sand article in DecisionPoint 103-1Raiter 2018 Lines in the Sand article in DecisionPoint 103-2


Decision Point 103.JPG

Click here to download the pdf of the article:

Raiter 2018 Lines in the Sand article in DecisionPoint 103Raiter 2018 Lines in the Sand article in DecisionPoint 103

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Linear infrastructure impacts on landscape hydrology

The extent of roads and other forms of linear infrastructure is burgeoning worldwide, however there has been little quantification of how linear infrastructure affects the movement of water across landscapes. In our paper published in the Journal of Environmental Management, we present the first (to our knowledge) study to characterise and quantify the broad-scale impacts of linear infrastructure networks on surface and near-surface hydrology of a semi-arid region, Western Australia’s Great Western Woodlands.

With linear infrastructure named ‘one of the most pressing rangeland management concerns in arid and semi-arid lands globally’ (Duniway and Herrick 2013, in Rangeland Ecology and Management), we found that hydrological impacts of linear infrastructure are pervasive, but that there is considerable scope for addressing impacts. Hydrological impacts included erosion and pooling, as well as flow impedance, concentration and channelling, diversion, and new channel initiation at drainage crossings. Strategies for managing and mitigating these impacts include: hydrologically considerate infrastructure design; improving consideration of hydrological impacts in environmental impact evaluations, land-use or conservation plans, and mitigation strategies; developing risk maps to inform landscape-scale planning of linear infrastructure in relatively undisturbed landscapes; and further research to better understand the ecological ramifications of the impacts we report, and identify cost-effective solutions.

Our approach and methodology provide information and insights that are useful for cumulative and strategic impact assessment and decision-making as well as landscape planning and conservation policy, and can be applied to a range of other landscapes worldwide.

Ref: Raiter, K.G., Prober, S.M., Possingham, H.P., Westcott, F., Hobbs, R.J., 2018. Linear infrastructure impacts on landscape hydrology. Journal of Environmental Management. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2017.10.036

Until mid-January 2018, this paper is available to anyone for free, via this link: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1WAyL14Z6tTGzZ.


Fig 5.2

Examples of linear infrastructure impacts on surface water hydrology. a) Gully erosion along a track caused by large amounts of fast-moving water produced on-road during rainfall events and/or intercepted from upslope overland or subsurface flows. b) A track that is lower than the surrounding ground level has become a drainage channel. c) Three locations 400 m apart along a track where sheetflow from upslope (right of image) appears to have been intercepted by the track, and concentrated into the three drainage outfalls indicated by the arrows. The arrows also show the direction of flow. Vegetation on the downslope (left) side of the track in the lower part of the image appears sparse and may be suffering from water starvation. d) A small eroded channel initiated by a track along which water movement is evident. There is no channel upslope of the track. e) Pooling along a track has created an unnatural water source which has attracted emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae). Wildlife attracted to water along infrastructure are at greater risk of road mortality, and increasing the temporal availability of water for fauna may cause other ecological changes. f) A windrow on the upslope side of a track which intercepted sheetflow and caused upslope pooling, until the windrow was breached and the water flowed onto the track – now in a concentrated fashion. g) Large area of pooling along a track. Such pools can stay wet for many days after the surrounding landscape has dried. Such obstructions to traffic often cause drivers to create alternative vehicle tracks to drive around, causing further disturbance and increasing the total road footprint. In this case the detour track is also flooded and additional detour tracks may result. Images: A, B, D, E, F: Keren Raiter. C: Google Earth. G: Carl Gosper.

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Lines in the sand

Dr. Suzanne Prober, Prof Richard Hobbs, Prof Hugh Possingham and I have recently had a paper entitled ‘Lines in the sand: quantifying the cumulative development footprint in the world’s largest remaining temperate woodland‘ published in the journal Landscape Ecology. You can view the article online here or contact me to send you a pdf and/or any appendices.

In the paper, we quantify cumulative anthropogenic development footprints for the Great Western Woodland and expose the large proportion of this that is made up of unmapped linear infrastructure. We highlight the crucial importance of explicitly accounting for the ecological impacts of linear infrastructure in impact evaluations – impacts that typically pass under the radar of impact evaluations.

We also present an analysis of key drivers of development footprint extent, both at the regional and landscape-patch levels, and provide key insights, such as the mitigative effect of pastoralism on development footprints in mining landscapes, and investigate the implications for edge effects. Our approach and methodology provide information and insights that are useful for cumulative and strategic impact assessment as well as landscape planning and conservation, and can be applied to other relatively intact landscapes worldwide.

Figure 3 JPEG way.png
Fig. 3 Contribution of different anthropogenic disturbance types to total direct development footprint, with some examples. a) Contribution of different types of infrastructure to total footprint. b) An example of ‘hub’ infrastructure: an abandoned gold mine. c) Aerial view showing both hub and linear infrastructure of a mine and associated exploration grids. d) Aerial view of exploration grids passing through shrubland and woodland vegetation, the white dots are drill pads. e) A mapped track leading to Helena-Aurora Range, one of the banded ironstone formations where mining is currently proposed. The track was probably initially built for mineral exploration purposes and is now used by miners, conservation agencies, and tourists. f) A ground-truthed unmapped track with abandoned exploration drilling sample bags to the left. An abandoned hydrocarbon drum was found further along this track.

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Overview of Keren’s PhD research

Enigmatic impacts of mining and linear infrastructure development in Australia’s Great Western Woodlands

Background and aims

Extensive developments, such as mining, and oil and gas extraction, in relatively intact landscapes, can have numerous ecological impacts that affect the ecosystems within which they are situated. These impacts are often poorly understood and even more poorly accounted for in impact evaluations, biodiversity offsets, and regional conservation or land-use plans that are intended to mitigate impacts and protect the ecological assets and natural values of the landscapes in question.

This research is directed at improving our ability to conceptualise and account for these ‘enigmatic’ impacts in order to improve the decisions that we make in planning, approving, managing and offsetting extensive developments in relatively intact landscapes, with a focus on mitigating the ecological effects of mining and exploration Western Australia’s Great Western Woodland.

The Great Western Woodlands

The Great Western Woodlands is an internationally significant area of great biological richness, owing partly to its 250 million year continuous biological heritage, its location at the interzone between the moist southwest corner of Australia and the arid interior, and its relative intactness. At 16 million hectares, the Great Western Woodlands is larger than England and represents the largest remaining temperate woodland on earth. The region comprises a mosaic of woodland; shrubland; mallee; casuarina and melaleuca thickets; rocky outcrops; halophytic vegetation; salt lakes; and banded ironstone formations, and is the driest place in which such tall woodlands grow. The area is home to almost one third of Australia’s eucalypt taxa and well over 3000 flowering plant species (more than twice the number that occur in the whole of the UK), as well as many species that occur nowhere else in the world.

The Great Western Woodlands is also a very rich and productive mineral province, with 134 operating mines and 119,303 ‘abandoned mines’ registered within its boundaries, as well as more than 5000 current mineral tenements covering more than 60% of the region. Mining in the region mainly targets gold, nickel and iron ore, but commercial quantities of silver, copper, cobalt, gypsum, salt, and construction materials are also extracted.

The Great Western Woodlands

This research consisted of:

  1. A review of ecological impacts that are frequently overlooked in impact evaluations but that continue to cause ecological loss and degradation, with a proposed framework for conceptualising and addressing these issues published in the highly-ranked journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.
  2. A spatial analysis of ground disturbance in the Great Western Woodlands using GIS and remote sensing to identify and characterise cumulative impacts and areas within disturbance buffers, as well as associations between disturbed areas and disturbance types, land tenure, tenement history, and selected environmental values.  A key outcome of this work has been the identification of roads, tracks and other linear infrastructure corridors as major components of the disturbance regime, despite their impacts being particularly poorly understood (the following sections go some way toward addressing this knowledge gap).
  3. An observational field investigation using motion-sensor cameras and spoor (scats, prints, etc.) surveys to understand the effects of roads and tracks on predator activity within relatively intact landscapes.
  4. A survey of ephemeral drainage lines, erosional features, and water pooling features, and their association with linear infrastructure corridors to characterise and quantify the type and extent of impacts of linear infrastructure on water movement across landscapes.

Prudent strategic assessment and comprehensive mitigation that accounts for all impacts — even enigmatic ones — could provide improved environmental and land-use planning outcomes while potentially benefiting development proponents by providing greater upfront guidance and certainty of access to specified areas, and enhancing their ‘social licence to operate’.

This research contributes to efforts to conserve in perpetuity a relatively intact ecosystem that dates back to Gondwanan times and is internationally significant for its biodiversity and wilderness values. It is also an area cherished by its traditional owners in the cultural and spiritual connections they have with the land, and by many others who prize the region and its unique landscape.

This PhD project was supervised by Professor Richard Hobbs (University of Western Australia), Dr Suzanne Prober (CSIRO), Professor Hugh Possingham (University of Queensland), Dr Leonie Valentine and Dr Kerrie Wilson (University of Queensland), and has been supported by the UWA Gledden Postgraduate Research Scholarship, the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, the National Environmental Research Program Environmental Decisions Hub, and The Wilderness Society. It runs in association with the Terrestrial Environmental Research Network’s Great Western Woodlands Supersite and the work of GondwanaLink and Pew Trusts.

Keren’s full PhD thesis is available at: http://research-repository.uwa.edu.au/files/10146368/THESIS_DOCTOR_OF_PHILOSOPHY_RAITER_Keren_Gila_2016.pdf

 See my publications for papers and datasets that have emerged from this research.
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Being quoted

I just came across an interesting book recently published by Random House in the UK called Linescapes: Remapping and Reconnecting Britain’s Fragmented Wildlife, by Hugh Warwick. In the book, the author discussed some of my research, published a few years ago in an article called ‘Under the radar: mitigating enigmatic ecological impacts‘ (contact me if you’d like a copy).

I really like the discussion, even though he’s misquoted me a little (still, the point I was making is unchanged). What a nice feeling to see my research quoted as an example of ‘recent thinking’ and incorporated into the global discourse in such an obviously well-researched and thoughtful book. I hope to have more of my reasearch on the ecological implications of the lines that we draw through wild landscapes published soon too!

Click on this link to see the discussion: https://books.google.com.au/books?id=REEtDQAAQBAJ&pg=PT150&dq=keren+raiter&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjck5aRmOjUAhWDabwKHbWuDKYQ6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&q=keren%20raiter&f=false


Here is the book’s blurb: It is rare to find a landscape untouched by our lines – the hedges, walls, ditches and dykes built to enclose and separate; and the green lanes, roads, canals, railways and power lines, designed to connect. This vast network of lines has transformed our landscape.
In Linescapes, Hugh Warwick unravels the far-reaching ecological consequences of the lines we have drawn: as our lives and our land were being fenced in and threaded together, so wildlife habitats have been cut into ever smaller, and increasingly unviable, fragments.
I’d love to hear any comments from anyone who has read it!

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Jungkajungka Woodlands Festival

jungkajungka_poster_final.jpgDon’t miss being a part of the inaugural Jungkajungka Woodlands Festival, held over Easter in Norseman, Western Australia—the Heart of the Great Western Woodlands. This event is organised by the Wilderness Society in collaboration with the Shire of Dundas, GondwanaLink, and with support from a number of other organisations.

This is Ngadju country and the festival organisers acknowledge the traditional owners of this part of the Great Western Woodlands and thank them for co-hosting the festival.

I’ll be talking as part of the presentations on Saturday afternoon on Woodlands Knowledge.

For more information, including how to register (for free), go to:


or click here to download the full program.

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