The Calperum Mallee is in the mallee semi-arid ecosystem, fringing the River Murray floodplains on Calperum Station, near Renmark South Australia. The area comprises undulating mallee woodlands and riverine vegetation that fringes the River. All areas are in the process of recovering from extensive grazing.

The location of the Calperum Mallee SuperSite

Background

The Calperum Mallee SuperSite has established and reinforced research infrastructure that can measure and monitor the condition of a nationally iconic region.

This SuperSite is part of the Australian Flux Network Project and will build on and strengthen existing ecosystem monitoring, grazing and floodplain restoration experiments and link with in-stream water quantity and quality measurements and is an OzFlux energy, carbon and water monitoring site.

The SuperSite is investigating fluxes of water vapour and carbon dioxide between the atmosphere, upper soil layers and groundwater as well as monitoring the changes in vegetation and dependent biota associated with the different ecosystems of the Site.

Key research questions

  • What are the fundamental energy, carbon, water and nutrient stocks and flows in the Mallee, Callitris woodland and river floodplain ecosystems?
  • How are these stocks and flows responding to the management interventions (reduced and controlled grazing, controlled fire, controlled floods on the floodplain)?
  • How are the biota changing in form, frequency and distribution as climate changes and more management interventions are imposed?
  • How important is the connectivity between these ecosystems for hydrology, faunal movement and as refugia in times of drought?

Site details

The Calperum Mallee SuperSite is located on Calperum Station with research plots located in sparse mallee woodland, Callitris woodland and river floodplain that was heavily damaged by grazing and settlement and is now being actively restored and an extensive floodplain black box, river red gum and lignum ecosystem.

Mallee plot

Floodplain plot

Woodland plot

Photosphere view of the mallee at Calperum (photo J. Armston)

History of Calperum Station

The Calperum Homestead complex is situated on one of the oldest historical sites in the Riverland, and the site was formerly known as Ral Ral. As early as 1838 European drovers bringing livestock into South Australia used Ral Ral as a watering point and camping place.

Sheep and cattle men occupied the Calperum area from about 1846 under an annual license and in 1851, 14 year Pastoral Leases were issued, with the first pastoral lease issued to Albermarle Cator. This lease covered an area from Spring Cart Gully (upstream from Berri) along the river to the eastern border of the colony. The property became known as Chowilla, then Chowilla-Bookmark. In 1896 the property was divided into separate properties: Chowilla and Calperum.

From 1896 John Holland Robertson held the Calperum lease until his death in 1909, the property remained in the family and was run by Robertson's wife and daughters up to the death of the last daughter in 1953. Colin Watson and Howard Martin co-leased the property until Watson was bought out and then Howard transferred the lease to his sons - Brenton, Eric and Chester. In 1979 Chester purchased his brothers property shares and then sold in 1981 to Ken McNaughton.

In 1993 the lease was sold to the Federal Government and together with the Australian National Parks and Wildlife implemented the Biosphere Reserve Program. The Australian Landscape Trust and the community, in partnership, were contracted to manage Calperum Station for the Federal Government.

Calperum and Taylorville make up more than 35% of the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve (now known as the Riverland Biosphere Reserve), one of the 14 Biosphere reserves in Australia and part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. It was officially designated and listed by UNESCO in 1977 and extended in 1995. In 1995 the property was added to the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve (now known as the Riverland Biosphere Reserve) and the Australian Government contracted the Australian Landscape Trust to manage the property. In 2000 Taylorville Station was purchased and was also managed by the Australian Landscape Trust. In 2014 the Australian Landscape Trust took sole ownership of Calperum and Taylorville. These two properties make up more than 35% of the Riverland Biosphere Reserve, which is one of 14 Australian reserves in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. The Murray River floodplain on Calperum Station was also listed, in 1987, under the RAMSAR agreement as part of a wetland system of international importance (Riverland Ramsar site). Finally in 2004, the mallee woodland of Calperum and Taylorville, along with neighbouring Gluepot Reserve was listed under the Australian Government’s Environmental Protection Act Register of Critical Habitat, because of its importance to the threatened bird, the Black-eared Miner Manorina melanotis. This area is one of only five critical habitats listed on the Register.

Calperum supports more than 20 plant and 19 fauna species that are listed as threatened under National or State legislation, and 18 birds that are listed in international conservation agreements. A number of restoration projects are managed by the Australian Landscape Trust. These include the Riverland Ramsar Recovery program, which covers approximately 8,100 ha, and involves the restoration of terrestrial, riparian and wetland floodplain vegetation, by reducing threats such as increased grazing pressure and weed invasion; implementing strategic supplementary planting and water management; to restore diverse and sustainable communities. It addresses areas that have undergone more permanent changes due to rising saline ground water, by producing functional salt-tolerant habitats, and seeks to ameliorate severe soil degradation by effective restoration of erosion scalds. The Semi-arid Woodland Restoration project seeks to restore the condition of 2,900 ha of non-Eucalypt woodlands on Calperum Station, through selective planting and recovery/protection of natural recruitment. Currently these woodlands are degraded through the loss of the tree overstorey (Callitris gracilis, Myoprum platycarpum) due to past timber cutting, the loss of tree recruitment and a decline in the diversity and cover of the understorey species due to grazing and modified vegetation states. This has resulted in the loss of habitat for fauna including the State listed Major Mitchell's Cockatoo and the disruption of landscape connectivity between the Murray River floodplain and the mallee.

The Calperum Mallee SuperSite was established at the site in 2011 by a partnership between the Adelaide University and Australian Landscape Trust with initial funding from the Australian Federal Government, Education Investment Fund.

For more information about Calperum Mallee reserve site, refer to the Department of the Environment website , and the Flux tower project website .

SuperSite installations

The Calperum flux tower supports an array of monitoring equipment operating at various heights on a 20-metre tower:

  • SuperSites core 1 ha (100 m x 100 m) is located within the fetch of the flux tower and is the focal site of recurrent monitoring.
  • top of the tower facing west - sonic anemometer (to detect wind speed and direction in three dimensions); an infra-red gas analyser (collecting data on water vapour and carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere)
  • eastern end of the arm at 20 m - solar equipment (large CNR4 provides data on incoming and outgoing long-wave and short-wave radiation to construct a net energy balance).
  • at 7 m and 2 m - two standard cup-and-vane wind sentries to monitor direction and speed
  • at 2 m - atmospheric temperature and humidity probe
  • ground - a rain gauge
  • beneath the surface - soil water content, temperature and electrical conductivity (salinity) probes at three positions around the tower.

Near the Flux tower there is canopy-monitoring equipment belonging to the UTS Plant Functional Biology & Climate Change Cluster. There is also a substantial groundwater monitoring array from the edge of the mallee woodlands down to the floodplain/wetlands which form the western half of the Riverland Ramsar site. Future work is scheduled to collate the existing information on groundwater response and to identify any additional monitoring that should be installed.

Photosphere view of the Calperum flux tower site (photo J. Armston)

Permanently marked plots at the Calperum Mallee SuperSite

TERN AusPlots sites in the Calperum Mallee SuperSite

There are sixteen AusPlots sites in the Calperum Mallee SuperSite.

There are four AusPlots sites within the OzFlux tower footprint, two on mallee dunes and two within mallee swales. The remaining 12 plots are part of the transect from the mallee to the floodplain, covering the 4 major vegetation systems; mallee, Callitris woodland, chenopod shrubland and Floodplain woodland:

SASMDD0001 Mallee Core 1 ha plot (Dune)
SASMDD0002 Mallee Swale plot
SASMDD0003 Mallee Swale plot
SASMDD0004 Chenopod Shrubland plot
SASMDD0005 Callitris Woodland plot (Degraded)
SASMDD0006 Mallee Mallee/Callitris transition
SASMDD0008 Black Box Floodplain plot (Training)
SASMDD0009 Callitris Woodland plot (Training)
SASMDD0010 Mallee Dune plot (Training)
SASMDD0011 Chenopod Shrubland plot
SASMDD0012 Black box Floodplain plot
SASMDD0013 Black box Floodplain plot (Degraded)
SASMDD0014 Callitris Woodland plot
SASMDD0015 Lignum Floodplain plot
SASMDD0016 Mallee Swale plot
SASMDD0017 Mallee Dune plot

AusPlots monitoring data will be available through TERN’s Eco-informatics facility, which manage the data using its ÆKOS data repository.

Other permanently marked plots at the Calperum Mallee SuperSite

Australian Landscape Trust Bird Survey Plots

There are 20 circular (80 m radius) plots within the Mallee in a 4 x 5 km area around the flux tower. There are also 16 plots in the floodplain woodlands.

Bird survey plots are associated with AusPlots SASMDD0001-0003, -0012 and -0013.

Comparison Sites

TERN Australian Long Term Ecological Research Network

The LTERN Mallee Plot Network is about 50 km NNE of Calperum. Surveys of vegetation and fauna have been made systematically since 1997. Key research questions relate to how survivorship and fecundity of different plant species vary with time since fire and how different herbivore species affect standing vegetation. Data will be available on the LTERN Data Portal.

TERN AusCover activities at the Calperum Mallee SuperSite

AusCover has run airborne LiDAR and hyperspectral and ground LiDAR campaigns at Calperum with ground calibration with SLATS star transects, leaf sampling, tree structure and LAI measures. Phenocams are installed on the flux tower to Integrate flux measurements and phenology to understand the impacts of climate change on Australian landscapes.

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 Calperum Mallee SuperSite

Plant ecophysiological measurements are being collected across a number of the TERN SuperSites including Calperum 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.

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

TERN OzFlux at the Calperum Mallee SuperSite

OzFlux maintains the flux tower instrumentation that continuously measures exchanges of carbon dioxide, water vapour and energy between the terrestrial ecosystem and atmosphere.

Flux data is available from the OzFlux data portal

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Postgraduate Projects and Post-docs associated with the Calperum Mallee SuperSite

  • Qiaoqi Sun (PhD candidate, UA). Soil carbon dynamics in semiarid woodlands under a changing climate. Supervisors Prof Wayne Meyer (UA), Prof David Chittleborough (UA) and Prof Petra Marschner (UA).
  • Zoe Reynolds (PhD candidate, ANU), The influence of unburnt patches on post-fire distributions of birds in mallee communities. Supervisors Marcel Cardillo (ANU), Geoff Cary (ANU).
  • Dr Natalia Restrepo (UTS). Integrating remote sensing, landscape flux measurements, and phenology to understand the impacts of climate change on Australian landscapes (Prof Alfredo Huete, UTS).
  • Isabel Telfer (Honours student, UA). The use of Stable Isotopes to determine water sources of Eucalyptus Camaldulensis, Eucalyptus largiflorens and Eucalyptus socialis. Supervisors Prof Wayne Meyer (UA), Prof David Chittleborough (UA).
  • Sylvia Bretherton (Honours student, UA). Salinity and groundwater responses to an altered surface water regime on arid and semi-arid floodplains. Supervisors Prof Wayne Meyer (UA), Assoc Prof Bertram Ostendorf (UA)

Facilities for Researchers and Educational Visitors

Accommodation and other support facilities for researchers are available on Calperum Station itself, managed by the Australian Landscape Trust.

Accommodation options include:

  • Low-impact camp sites on the Calperum floodplain for casual visitors and organised groups.
  • Air-conditioned dormitory accommodation and associated facilities for groups of up to 40 at Calperum Station especially designed for educational users such as school groups and university field trips.
  • Remote area accommodation for researchers and work groups on both Calperum and Taylorville Stations.

Education and Outreach

Education Activities

Education and capacity building are high priority activities for the Australian Landscape Trust. In 2009-2010, they supported delivery of over 3,100 person-days of accredited training - either with its own staff and resources or through partnerships with other organisations.

Current activities include:

  • Chaffey Learning Exchange project: This project will support increased engagement between the education sectors (schools, vocational and higher education), industry, researchers and local government and will use and develop the latest learning technologies to increase student engagement in post-secondary education (both school leavers and career developers) while providing highest quality local support for online learning.
  • Primary and secondary education: Hosting camps and days trips, including support for lesson planning and delivery
  • Tertiary Education: Hosting University and TAFE field trips and courses and provision of sites and support for undergraduate and postgraduate research students.

Flinders University has used the site for undergraduate field trips in eco-tourism and biodiversity and conservation subjects as well as postgraduate bird studies.

The Department of Environmental Management and Ecology, La Trobe University, Albury-Wodonga has run undergraduate field trips to carry out ecological research:

  • Occasional training workshops: For volunteers and community members
  • Working on Country: Riverland Aboriginal Rangers - providing longer-term, more advanced traineeships in Conservation and Land Management
  • South Australian Rotary Club: Adelaide based Rotary Clubs volunteer time to Calperum based programs and projects
  • International Student Volunteers: Host groups of American and Canadian students who volunteer for conservation projects in Australia over their summer holidays.

Video of undergraduate field trips

Outreach Activities

The Australian Landscape Trust runs a number of programs in partnership with community volunteers:

  • Paddock Adoption Scheme. Groups of community volunteers take responsibility for managing sections of the property performing tasks such as feral animal control and infrastructure maintenance.
  • Learning in the Landscape. People of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to use the properties for training and education.
  • Research and Monitoring. The Australian Landscape Trust partners with community members and technical experts to monitor the landscape, and to investigate key environmental issues.

All of Calperum and Taylorville’s programs rely on the willingness of community members to volunteer their time and effort in support. Over more than a decade of shared management responsibility, volunteers have consistently donated around 10,000 hours a year to looking after Calperum and Taylorville Stations.

McCormick Centre for the Environment (Ral Ral Avenue, Renmark, SA 5341 tel. 08 8586 4777)

The McCormick Centre for the Environment in Renmark is managed by Australian Landscapes Trust under an agreement with the Renmark Paringa Council to provide a regional hub for environmental education and eco-tourism. Facilities include a 115-seat lecture theatre, research and teaching laboratories, catering facilities, a reception area for functions, rooms for meetings and offices.

The Centre runs a diverse program of exhibitions and activities, as well as providing a base from which community groups can operate.

Resources for Managers

  • History and significance values
    Details of various studies and the European and Aboriginal history archeology of the Murray Mallee Region including Calperum Mallee SuperSite have been collated by the Australian Government Department of the Environment.
  • Fauna and Vegetation Surveys
    There have been biological surveys of the Murray Mallee (Foulkes and Gillen 2000) and CSIRO conducted an invertebrate study at Calperum Station (Pullen, 1997) that identified over 44 new invertebrate species, most only known from Calperum Station including 19 new species of mites (two of which are unique to Calperum); Five new species of crickets (four from new genera); Three new species of raspy crickets (Gryllacrididae) are known only from Calperum; a new species of false scorpion (Neocheiridium) is the first record for a genus otherwise only known from South America and Africa; new species of thrips, treehoppers and a number of beetles were also found.
  • Australian Landscape Trust Research and Monitoring
    The Australian Landscape Trust carries out targeted research activities investigating areas of particular concern for the region. Ongoing programs include a range of annual biological surveys and threatened species monitoring programs. In recent years, significant projects researching carbon cycling in mallee woodlands, groundwater salinity on the Calperum floodplain and new approaches to vegetation restoration have been established in collaboration with a range of partners.

Stakeholders and User Groups

Participants