Rangelands and Savannas
Rangelands are areas where the rainfall is either too
low or too variable for dryland crop production. As
a consequence cattle or sheep grazing is the major agricultural
practice but there are also other major land uses in
the rangelands including mining, indigenous land management,
tourism, conservation and defence.
The rangelands account for more than 70% of Australia's land
surface and include a diverse group of relatively undisturbed
ecosystems such as tropical savannas, woodlands, shrublands
Why work in the rangelands?
Unlike much of southern Australia's agricultural zone the
rangelands and savannas are still relatively intact and are
a rich source of Australia's biodiversity.
However, the rangelands are facing increasing pressures
for their further development. Some of these challenges are
coming from traditional land uses like pastoralism, and new uses such as tourism, urban expansion and other businesses and industries.
Some regions like central Australia are responding by diversifying
and building new arid zone industries but there are challenges
in ensuring these new desert economies are sustainable. In
more favourable environments close to major urban centres
in eastern Australia, extensive grazing is giving way to "sea-change"
lifestyles and amenity agriculture and there are significant
issues in the environmental, economic and social implications
of this change in land use.
There are also new pressures to utilise more of the water
resources in northern Australia for more intensive agricultural
production. Exotic weeds are another threat to sustainable
management and biodiversity conservation in the rangelands.
Huge climatic variation in the rangelands provides a significant
challenge for land managers and future climate changes are
likely to make management even more difficult.
Indigenous lands account for vast areas of the savannas and
they face special challenges in management of fire, balancing
pastoral activities with traditional uses, bringing under
control outbreaks of pest ant species and maintaining culturally
valuable riparian areas in good condition.
The savannas and woodlands are also a large store of Australia's
terrestrial carbon and they play an important role in Australia's
greenhouse gas inventory via emissions from fire and livestock
and in sequestration in woodlands and soils.
The rangelands provide a harsh but exciting environment
full of opportunities to undertake research. In the Rangelands
and Savannas Program we work in partnership with land managers, communities, indigenous organisations, land owners, industries, policy makers and by incorporating economic, ecological
and social factors into our research, we aim to contribute
to better planning, use and management of the rangelands and
How we achieve this
While our research has a national charter, our current emphasis
is on the sustainable management of rangeland and savanna
systems in northern Australia. To help us achieve our research
it is important that our scientists are based in the rangelands.
We maintain research laboratories at four locations, Alice
Springs, Brisbane, Darwin and Townsville.
The Brisbane and Townsville teams conduct research
on the grassy woodlands of Queensland and the mixed cropping-grazing
zone. Members of the Alice Springs laboratory work specifically
in the arid rangelands (Centre for Arid Zone Research - CAZR)
while staff in the Darwin laboratory focus on tropical savannas
(Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre - TERC). The program
also works with international research partners in the USA,
Europe, southern Africa and Indonesia.
The Rangeland and Savannas Program has five key
research areas to achieve an integrated approach across the four sites:
>> Balancing Production and