Mitigating the environmental effects of global population growth, climatic change and increasing socio-ecological complexity is a daunting challenge. To tackle this requires synthesis: the integration of disparate information to generate novel insights from heterogeneous, complex situations where there are diverse perspectives. Since 1995, a structured approach to inter-, multi- and trans-disciplinary1 collaboration around big science questions has been supported through synthesis centres around the world. These centres are finding an expanding role due to ever-accumulating data and the need for more and better opportunities to develop transdisciplinary and holistic approaches to solve real-world problems. The Australian Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (ACEAS <http://www.aceas.org.au>) has been the pioneering ecosystem science synthesis centre in the Southern Hemisphere. Such centres provide analysis and synthesis opportunities for time-pressed scientists, policy-makers and managers. They provide the scientific and organisational environs for virtual and face-to-face engagement, impetus for integration, data and methodological support, and innovative ways to deliver synthesis products.
We detail the contribution, role and value of synthesis using ACEAS to exemplify the capacity for synthesis centres to facilitate trans-organisational, transdisciplinary synthesis. We compare ACEAS to other international synthesis centres, and describe how it facilitated project teams and its objective of linking natural resource science to policy to management. Scientists and managers were brought together to actively collaborate in multi-institutional, cross-sectoral and transdisciplinary research on contemporary ecological problems. The teams analysed, integrated and synthesised existing data to co-develop solution-oriented publications and management recommendations that might otherwise not have been produced. We identify key outcomes of some ACEAS working groups which used synthesis to tackle important ecosystem challenges. We also examine the barriers and enablers to synthesis, so that risks can be minimised and successful outcomes maximised. We argue that synthesis centres have a crucial role in developing, communicating and using synthetic