Rail survey plans to remote sensing: vegetation change in the Mulga Lands of eastern Australia and its implications for land use

Fensham,Roderick J.
CSIRO Publishing
Publication Year: 
There is a prevailing paradigm that woody vegetation is expanding at the expense of grassland with reduced burning under pastoralism in the Mulga Lands biogeographic region in eastern Australia. This raises the possibility that the region is acting as a carbon sink. Vegetation boundaries were precisely positioned from rail survey plans dating from 1895 to 1900. This baseline was compared with the position of boundaries on 1952 aerial photography and 2010 Google Earth imagery. The conversion of forest to non-forest by mechanical clearing was also mapped from satellite imagery. There was no consistent trend in the direction of boundary movement for mulga (Acacia aneura F.Muell. ex Benth.), gidgee (Acacia cambagei R.T. Baker) forest or miscellaneous other forest types. The stability of the boundaries, despite the transition from aboriginal management to rangeland pastoralism, contrasts with dramatic declines in tree cover resulting from mechanical clearing. Mapping of forest cover from satellite imagery reveals that conversion of forest to non-forest has reduced mulga forest to 74%, gidgee forest to 30% and miscellaneous forest types to 82% of their original area. Annual clearing rates for the period between 1997 and 2005 were 0.83, 0.95 and 0.43% for those forest types, respectively. Clearing has declined substantially in the period 2005-09 since the advent of recent regulations in Queensland. The area remains a source of carbon emissions but this situation may reverse if restoration of mulga dry forest becomes an attractive land use with an emerging carbon market.
Name of Journal: 
The Rangeland Journal
Resource Type: 
Document Type: 
Journal Issue/Article
Australian Rangeland Society

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