Enperitus Pty Ltd

Ask the Right Question Series for Approvals #2

Question marks isolated

Question the science!

I had read two reports by two different consultants that had delineated plant communities over a tenement. Yet both reports showed plant communities with different boundaries. They had followed the guidelines and methodologies, yet had very different results. The consultants were reputable botanists, and both could defend their work.

Delineating plant communities can be difficult when substrate, terrain, groundwater or climatic conditions do not have clear boundaries. As a result, boundary lines can vary in thickness as one community gradually blends into another or maybe two others. Yet our maps have a nice thin black line, which is consistently the same thickness throughout the map. I suspect these plant communities, which are not clearly or possibly accurately delineated, are further divided into sub-groupings as the boundaries themselves are then characterized as yet another plant community. So you can see how easy it would be to end up with two very different maps.

While I do not claim to be an expert in mapping plant communities, it was very clear to me that if two different consultants were following the same guidelines and methodologies, but were getting very different results then the science must not be sound. Scientific findings are only sound if the outcomes can be repeated using the same methodology.

So I took my maps and reports to someone who was an expert, who was able to compare the methodologies used and the guidance that is given by government. The result was that apparently our botanists require more training using the latest scientific methodologies to map plant communities, and our guidance statements are not detailed enough. Now that was a few years ago and may not be the case now.

The point I am trying to make is that sometimes you need to dig down into the science and don’t be afraid to question it, to question the guidance statements or accepted methodology. Find experts beyond state boundaries if need be to provide a detailed review of any discrepancies.