Ecological resilience of people and place: the key to sustaining Australia's iconic landscapes

Associate Professor Ross Coleman, Professor Chris Dickman, Dr Glenda Wardle, Dr Dieter Hochuli, Dr Clare McArthur, Dr Mark Browne, Dr Adam Munn, Associate Professor Nicole Gurran, Professor Stephanie Donald, Professor Ross Gibson, Dr Michael Harris, Dr Stefan Williams, Dr Richard Murphy, Dr Andrew Holmes, Gemma Deavin

Environmental sustainability relies on a full understanding of the scientific processes that underpin our existence and how these are impacted or set by social values.


Researchers representing the Sciences and the Arts will work together on a unique cross-disciplinary Iconic Landscapes study funded by the University's Institute for Sustainable Solutions from September 2009 to August 2010.

The study, led by The Centre for Research on Ecological Impacts of Coastal Cities Director, Ross Coleman, seeks to go beyond traditional academic discussions of scientific data and combine these findings with research looking at how local communities, in different iconic landscapes across Australia, understand and value their environment.

The researchers will sample three working field sites – seawalls (Sydney Harbour), rangelands (Fowlers Gap) and arid dry-zones (Simpson Desert). Here, they will gather the stories, perceptions and visualisations of those involved in understanding the relationship between biological events and social value.

It will span 11 months from September 2009 to August 2010.


  • Understand how communities value their immediate natural environment.
  • Understand how communities perceive local environmental challenges and their options to overcome them.
  • Understand how the scientists, in each three case study areas, view ecological challenges and how they think their research meets the real needs of the community.
  • Examine the barriers for public adoption of the outcomes of sustainability research.
  • Identify options and available solutions.
    a. Help local communities understand how science can help them
    b. Facilitate the wider reception of science-driven policy


Australia has the longest history, globally, of human manipulation of the environment. Australian environments are under increasing stress from droughts, feral animals and the urban development. Naïve attempts at bioremediation, or habitat replacement, which ignore the complex ecological interactions underpinning our ecosystems, are ultimately destined to fail.

The research project aims to go beyond the reporting of biodiversity outcomes and map the very real human element of sustainability as it is both practiced and imagined. Thus, our research cuts across traditional cultural divides between arts and sciences and provides an integrated understanding of sustainable development in the landscapes that define modern Australia.


The outcomes of this project will be better understanding of these landscapes to inform policy and to better facilitate decision-making by end users. The unconventional collaboration of scientific research and community observations will serve as a focal point for developing ecological sustainability in a human context and add value to existing projects.

We would like to present the research in an innovative way. The final presentation form will be developed throughout the project and may, for example, include film, photographic exhibitions or oral storytelling.

Other outcomes we would like to see:

  • Forum that will identify common themes and alignments between the scientific solutions and societal valuation of the solutions
  • Workshop where barriers to sustainability will be discussed by stakeholders in the context of our new knowledge of how 'home' and 'place' values interact with decision making
  • State of our Values report
  • Broad application to policy discourse
  • More open discussion of scientific research and findings


For further information or to participate in the study please call the project officer, Gemma Deavin, on +61 2 9351 4870 or alternatively send an email to

Please visit the project blog