ANU: Bird prediction tool takes flight in Eureka prizes

The team behind a powerful tool that helps farmers identify management actions that could support threatened birds on their properties is in the running for Australia’s top science prizes.

BirdCast, a free web tool developed by researchers at The Australian National University’s Sustainable Farms project, allows farmers to predict the birds living in woodlands on their farms.

The web tool is now in the running for the applied environmental research category in Australia’s Eureka Prizes. The prizes are Australia’s most comprehensive and high-profile science awards.

Director of Sustainable Farms at ANU, Michelle Young, said BirdCast helped farmers protect Australia’s incredible wildlife and biodiversity.

“BirdCast is a practical tool that supports farmers and land managers to protect and conserve our shared natural heritage,” she said.

“It enables farmers to predict what birds might use and live in woodland areas on their farm, and to understand how the bird species present might change under a range of scenarios, such as planting a new shelterbelt or restoring a degraded patch of remnant woodland.

“At a time when many species of plants and animals are threatened by extinction, woodland areas on farms are extremely valuable, providing food and homes for many of these species.

“Temperate woodlands in south-east Australia cover some 506,000 square kilometres. That’s the size of Spain – and most of this area is managed by farmers.

“It’s important that management of these areas is supported by science to help protect biodiversity and our precious wildlife living in ecosystems that are under threat.”

The BirdCast web tool is based on decades of research on 62 different birds, providing farmers and land managers with a wealth of information at the click of a button.

Sustainable Farms Lead Scientist Professor David Lindenmayer said making the data captured by BirdCast easily accessible to farmers was already creating better outcomes.

“Biodiversity in the woodlands of southeastern Australia is under threat, and farmers are keen to know how they can help turn this around,” Professor Lindenmayer said.

“The long-term ecological studies undertaken by our team over two decades mean we have a really good understanding of how wildlife responds to management changes.

“The BirdCast tool gives land managers a solid indication of how their own changes in management might have a real-world impact on biodiversity.

“It enables land managers to access real science to help them make the best decisions for their farm.

“Getting this information into the hands of farmers and land managers means they are better equipped to help protect our wildlife and ecosystems.

“BirdCast supports decisions when it comes to managing woodland areas on farms that are better for our birds, better for our land and better for our environment.”

Ms Young said the Sustainable Farms team were delighted to be recognised in Australia’s annual “Oscars for Science”.

“Here at ANU our mission is to develop and deliver solutions that improve Australia and our world,” she said.

“We think BirdCast is a great example of that mission.

“We are proud of the improvements BirdCast is already delivering and honoured to be counted among the nation’s most innovative scientists who are making positive change in this year’s Eureka Prizes.”