The Legacy of the International Biological Program in Australia

Alison Specht, A., and Specht, R. L. (2020)


The International Biological Program (IBP: 1964–1974) was initiated by the International Council of Scientific Unions (now the International Science Council, ISC) to promote the worldwide study of production on land, in freshwaters and in the seas, the potentialities and uses of new and existing natural resources, and human adaptability to changing conditions. The IBP was the first of a series of global initiatives created to promote international collaboration around big environmental science questions since the Second World War. We present a brief review of its international context, and then describe the operations and outcome of the IBP in Australia based largely on the personal experience of Raymond L. Specht (RLS), who was convenor of the Australian PCT section: productivity of terrestrial communities; production processes; and conservation of terrestrial communities. Despite the absence of any dedicated funding for the IBP in Australia, RLS was able to bring a team of interdisciplinary researchers to The University of Queensland and provide them with state-of-the art research facilities. This was the focus for many national and international exchanges, and several important outcomes. RLS, with the support of the Australian Academy of Science (AAS), enabled the first national survey of the conservation status of plant communities (a target of the IBP for each country) and developed it into an objective assessment long after the IBP itself had ended, laying the foundations for a comprehensive, adequate and representative national reserve system. Much more could have been produced if adequate funding had been provided for the program, reducing the reliance on the commitment and enthusiasm of individual researchers. Keywords: International Biological Program (IBP), International Science Council (ISC), Australian Academy of Science (AAS), interdisciplinary research, conservation of terrestrial communities.