Ecology is the study of "what lives where and why". It is about where animals and plants are found and how they interact with each other and their environment. Their environment has biological features - other plants and animals, including people. It also has physical features, such as temperature and rainfall. Animals and plants have very complex relationships with their surroundings. To be able to conserve habitats and to protect these creatures, we need to understand these relationships.

Conservation is not simply in the hands of scientists and government bureaucrats. We all have a stake in the future of Australia's native flora and fauna and we can all do our bit to help them. We can do this directly by learning about and looking after our own neighbourhoods, be they rural or urban, coastal or inland, surrounded by bushland beaches or streets. Untouched wilderness, National Parks and State Forests are a way of protecting wildlife for future generations. Caring for local parks, school yards, small patches of native bushland, beaches, rocky shores and river banks is another. There is increasing awareness of the importance of isolated patches of land for the survival of many small plants and animals. Ridding these patches of pests, providing habitats for native species, carefully observing what species are present are things we can all do. The more people who get together to work towards these ends, the greater the chance of continued survival of our wildlife.

The information in this web site is designed to assist you to develop co-operative programmes to learn about animals and plants in your neighbourhood. It includes information on networking to share the workload and develop your knowledge. The Guidelines will help you do a simple environmental study, by introducing some ecological concepts and describing procedures which should be followed for successful results. Ecological knowledge is crucial for most decisions about conservation or management, but such decisions also include social and personal values. We do not offer advice on these. Our Guidelines are solely to help you find out something about the ecology of a small patch of habitat, to develop a co-operative programme of investigation and to interpret and communicate your findings to each other.

Studying ecology is hard work. The world is naturally very variable. All patches of habitat don't naturally look the same. Nor do they stay the same. Creatures do not behave in the same ways at all times in the same place, or, indeed, in different places. Understanding variability is essential to understanding and managing the natural world. Only when we understand natural changes and differences can we begin to understand any effects humans are having on the environment. Collecting such information takes time and skill. Professional ecologists are trained for many years to learn the correct techniques to collect such data. Our guidelines are not designed for professional ecologists. Nor will they turn you into a professional ecologist. They are for people who want to learn a bit about animals and plants in local habitats. They can be adapted to your own particular circumstances and serve your own particular needs. The next page is about Networking.

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Centre for Research on Ecological Impacts of Coastal Cities