Cumberland Plain SuperSite is located in remnant Eucalyptus woodland in the Cumberland Plain, at the University of Western Sydney's Hawkesbury campus in Richmond, New South Wales. Associated research extends into the Blue Mountains ecoregion. These sclerophyll woodlands occur on nutrient-poor alluvium deposited by the Nepean River from sandstone and shale bedrock in the Blue Mountains. Despite this they support high regional biodiversity and endemic biota.

Cumberland Plain woodland is a critically endangered ecological community found only in the Sydney Basin Bioregion. It faces major pressures including invasive weeds, altered fire regimes, Western Sydney’s urban development, conversion to agriculture, and extreme climate events.

This video shows an animation (Pix4D) of a 3D canopy model of the Cumberland Plain Core 1 ha site. It was developed from footage captured by a drone carrying RGB, thermal and hyperspectral cameras. The data collected is used to estimate evapotranspiration (thermal data) and gross primary production (multispectral data) in the Extrewafor project. This Marie Curie IOF project is lead by Dr Wouter Maes and is a collaboration between the University of Technology Sydney and Ghent University.

The Cumberland Plain SuperSite has a focal core 1 ha adjacent to the University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment's OzFlux eddy covariance tower and in close proximity to the Free Air CO2 Enrichment (FACE) experiment, EucFACE.

Key Research Questions

The key research questions addressed at the Cumberland Plain SuperSite relate to processes controlling biogeochemical fluxes and the impacts of extreme climate events and climate change thereon, biodiversity, conservation management and restoration of remnant Eucalyptus woodland and pastures of Western Sydney.

TERN OzFlux at the Cumberland Plain SuperSite

Elise Pendall and the HIE technical team maintain the flux tower instrumentation at the core 1 ha that continuously measures exchanges of carbon dioxide, water vapour and energy between the terrestrial ecosystem and atmosphere. The dry sclerophyll woodland vegetation in the tower footprint is distinct from other eddy covariance sites around Australia, and the flux data fills a knowledge gap on how climate variations affect ecosystem processes in water limited Eucalypt woodlands.

Flux data is available from the OzFlux data portal.


The Free Air CO2 Enrichment (FACE) experiment, EucFACE, is located within the Cumberland Plain Supersite. This facility is unique in the southern hemisphere and provides unparalleled access for intensive study of canopy and soil processes and biodiversity.

EucFACE was established in 2010 to understand how rising atmospheric CO2 concentration and CO2 fertilisation affects tree canopy processes and soil and ecosystem function in mature native woodland. Such woodlands have substantial ecohydrological variability. EucFACE currently hosts some 60 research projects involving researchers from Australian and international institutions.

Research in northern hemisphere temperate forests has found that elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration has a stimulatory effect on carbon cycling, precipitating biophysical changes in land surface processes. However, little is known about how Australian native woodlands and their biodiversity may respond to rising CO2.

EucFACE Key research questions

  • What are the long-term effects of rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations and CO2 fertilisation on native woodland species under Australian conditions which experience dynamic changes in water availability?
  • How do native woodlands and their soils sequester carbon and regulate atmospheric CO2?
  • How does rising CO2 concentration differentially affect species, and how vulnerable is community composition to climatic and atmospheric change, as well as to species invasion during these changes?
  • How do altered resource economics of water and nutrients affect species composition and ecosystem function?

Cumberland Plain SuperSite and EucFACE installations

  • Full meteorological station
  • Eddy flux co-variance system for water vapour fluxes in FACE
  • Eddy flux co-variance system for CO2 and water vapour in woodland
  • Fuel moisture sensors in woodland
  • Phenocams at FACE and in woodland
  • Spatially explicit CO2 concentration and wind speed profiles
  • Six tower cranes for canopy access in FACE
  • Coupled sap flow and dendrometer systems for trees
  • Automated soil CO2 flux monitoring chambers
  • Soil water content and neutron probe sensors

Permanently marked plots at the Cumberland Plain SuperSite

Core 1 hectare

The Core 1 ha monitoring plot is located within the fetch of the TERN OzFlux tower in remnant Eucalyptus woodland. While the Core 1 ha is in relatively close proximity to the EucFACE experiment, the soil is slightly more poorly drained and clayey than at EucFACE while the vegetation structure and species composition consists of a mix of Eucalyptus moluccana, Eucalyptus fibrosa and Melaleuca decora in the overstorey and Bursaria spinosa dominating the understorey.

Monitoring activities are managed by UWS-Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment staff:
Coordination - Matthias Boer and Elise Pendall
Vegetation - Paul Rymer and Tony Haigh in collaboration with the Royal Botanical Garden, Sydney
Soils Elise Pendall
Invertebrate Fauna - James Cook
Vertebrate Fauna/Acoustic monitoring - Justin Welbergen
Bird Surveys - Ben Moore

Eddy Flux Tower Construction

Nutrient Network Plots

The Cumberland Plain SuperSite includes 48 plots that form part of the global Nutrient Network experiment to understand the role of global change drivers (nutrients and herbivores) on ecosystem dynamics. These are located at the UWS Hawkesbury campus in managed pasture land and have been monitored annually since early 2014. They are contributing to global tests of ecological theory such as the role of diversity in ecological stability and the relationship between productivity and diversity. Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Comparison Research Sites

TERN Australian Long Term Ecological Research Network

The LTERN Woodland Restoration Plot Network is situated in Sydney basin and was established in 1992. The aim of the Woodland Restoration Plot Network is to develop robust methods to evaluate the success of native woodland restoration on retired agricultural land. Key research questions relate to the appropriate methods and metrics for detecting change in the biodiversity values of restoration plantings and how do alternative management strategies influence the pace and direction of restoration trajectories. Data will be available on the LTERN Data Portal.

TERN AusCover activities at the Cumberland Plain SuperSite

Phenocams are installed on the flux tower to integrate flux measurements and phenology to understand the impacts of climate change on Australian landscapes.

Associated research activities

AusCover data is available from the AusCover Visualisation Portal and will also be available from the TERN Data Discovery Portal.

Slideshare presentation: Phenocam Network: Australian Phenology Product Validation: Phenocam Network. 2014. K. Davies, M. Liddell, N. Weiand, C. Macfarlane, J. Byrne, V. R. des Dios, M. Boer, C. Maeir, N. Boulain, J. Cleverly, D. Eamus, G. Koerber, W. S. Meyer.

TERN eMAST activities at the Cumberland Plain SuperSite

Plant ecophysiological measurements are being collected across a number of the TERN SuperSites including Cumberland Plain by Owen Atkin's team (ANU) in a collaboration with TERN's eMAST facility. The aim is to look at ecosystem hydrology, net CO2 exchange and primary productivity in wet/dry and winter/summer seasons at a continental scale.

Slideshare presentation: Plant ecophysiological measurements at TERN SuperSites. 2013. O. Atkin, K. Bloomfield, L. Weerasinghe.

Postgraduate Projects and Post-docs associated with the Cumberland Plain SuperSite

Dr Natalia Restrepo, Prof Alfredo Huete, Dr Wouter Maes, University of Technology Sydney. Integrating remote sensing, landscape flux measurements, and phenology to understand the impacts of climate change on Australian landscapes.

Education and Outreach

Greening Australia

Greening Australia has a project to restore the grassy woodland of Cumberland Plain. In collaboration with UWS and the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, Greening Australia is propagating over 100 ground layer plant species that will be used to revegetate 40 ha of Cumberland Plain. Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Hawkesbury Environment Network

The Hawkesbury Environment Network (HEN) is the leading representative organisation for environmental information, advocacy, education and action in the Hawkesbury region focussing on ecological restoration and sustainable management of the natural capital of the Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment.

Facilities for Researchers and Educational Visitors

Accommodation and other support facilities for researchers are available on the UWS Hawkesbury Campus. Short term accommodation is available at the UWS village.

A ClimateWatch trail is in development that will allow citizen scientists to collect biodiversity and phenology data from a nearby trail. This data will be compared to scientist collected monitoring data for the Core 1 ha.