Category Archives: Threatened species & communities

Scoping the knowledge requirements for Murray Crayfish

Key words: Murray Crayfish, crustacea, Murray-Darling Basin, knowledge gaps

Murray Crayfish (Euastacus armatus) is highly valued by recreational fishers in the southern Murray-Darling Basin, and is also listed as a threatened species across much of its range. Murray Crayfish is believed to have declined in distribution and abundance over the last 50-60 years. Because little of the research undertaken on the status, biology or potential threatening processes of this species has been published, it is difficult to validate the reported declines and develop successful management strategies. The majority of data are only available as unpublished departmental manuscripts, theses, secondary references to unpublished data, or in items published outside of peer-reviewed scientific journals. Consequently, the information that is available about Murray Crayfish is difficult to access.

Murray Crayfish are highly valued by recreational fishers, (Photo courtesy of Jamin Forbes)

Figure 1. Murray Crayfish are highly valued by recreational fishers, (Photo courtesy of Jamin Forbes)

As a slow growing, late maturing, long-lived species, Murray Crayfish are susceptible to overharvest. (Photo courtesy of Jamin Forbes)

Figure 2. As a slow growing, late maturing, long-lived species, Murray Crayfish are susceptible to overharvest. (Photo courtesy of Jamin Forbes)

Broad aim and methods: This project reviewed and assimilated all available information on Murray Crayfish (both published and accessible unpublished material sourced from electronic databases, unpublished reports and datasets and unpublished student theses). Key knowledge gaps relevant to sustainable management of the species were identified and recommendations provided.

Findings: The project summarised knowledge of the ecology, distribution and management of Murray Crayfish. Ecological knowledge summarised includes species description; taxonomy; systematics; historical and current distribution; population genetics; anatomy and sense perception; habitat use and requirements; environmental tolerances; diet; movement, migration and diel activity; diseases and parasites; reproduction and recruitment; age and growth; size at maturity; mortality; population structure; sex ratios; historical and current abundance; and, ecological role.

Management knowledge presented includes historical translocations in NSW; commercial and recreational fisheries management; and aquaculture. This project provides a range of management recommendations including requirements for improved monitoring, controls on trade and movement, improved water allocation, a community education program, improved habitat management and rehabilitation, promotion of interstate consistency of fishery regulations, increased enforcement capacity, and developing a collaborative management and conservation relationship with Aboriginal stakeholders.

Threats to the species are outlined including:

  • River regulation
  • Pesticides and pollution
  • Overfishing
  • Habitat degradation
  • Translocation of crayfish
  • Thermal pollution
  • Introduced fish species
  • Fish passage

The traditional ecological knowledge, historical use and cultural significance of Murray Crayfish to Aboriginal peoples were also characterised.

Lessons learned and future directions: Murray Crayfish has declined across most of its distribution, and is considered extinct in South Australia, vulnerable in the ACT and threatened in Victoria. The species was not considered threatened in New South Wales at the time the report was prepared. As a slow growing, late maturing, long-lived species it is susceptible to overharvest and so it is important that management regulations are regularly reviewed and updated. Locally extinct populations in South Australia and the Murray River downstream of Mildura may be amenable to population reestablishment and previous calls for a Murray Crayfish re-introduction program in the lower Murray River are supported with potential to trial the re-establishment of Murray Crayfish in flowing reaches of the lower Murray River. Subsequent monitoring of reintroduced populations would provide an opportunity to assess the criteria for population establishment and determine the timeframes required for populations to reach self-sustaining levels.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies: This project was funded through the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Native Fish Strategy, and conducted by a collaborative team from NSW Department of Primary Industries, University of New England, Macquarie University, ACT Parks, Conservation and Lands, Murray-Darling Basin Commission and NSW Department of Environment and Conservation.

Contact:  Dr Dean Gilligan Senior Research Scientist Freshwater, NSW Department of Primary Industries  Level 1, Braysyth Building Cnr Beach Road & Orient Street Batemans Bay NSW 2536. Tel: +61 2 4478 9100. Email: dean.gilligan@dpi.nsw.gov.au.

Link:

http://www.finterest.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/MD246%20%20Murray%20Crayfish%20Final%20Report%20formatted%20for%20printing.pdf(2).pdf

Impacts of managed flows on fish spawning and recruitment

Key words: Managed flows, regulation, fish spawning

Natural recruitment (survival of fishes from eggs to reproductive stage) of native fish is vital for sustainable populations, however unfortunately the conditions required for successful recruitment of many freshwater fish species in the Basin remain unknown. This is especially true with respect to the natural timing and environmental conditions required for spawning, and to ensure the subsequent survival of larval and juvenile fish.

Research in the southern Murray–Darling Basin (MDB) suggests that many fish species still breed under modified flow conditions, but that high numbers of juveniles do not always result. This suggests that recruitment failure, rather than lack of spawning, may be the limiting factor behind low population size and restricted distributions of a number of species in MDB.

Mullaroo Creek one of the six rivers surveyed in this study. (Photo courtesy Paul Humphries.)

Figure 1. Mullaroo Creek one of the six rivers surveyed in this study. (Photo courtesy Paul Humphries.)

Broad aims and methods:

The specific aims of this study were to determine:

  • whether the level of recruitment in Australian Smelt (Retropinna semonii) is proportional to the abundance of newly hatched larvae;
  • whether spawning and recruitment are similar between flow-managed and non flow-managed rivers for fish in general;
  • whether spawning and recruitment are similar between years for fish in general;
  • whether timing of peak recruitment is similar for protracted and short spawners; and,
  • if environmental variables or food availability are associated with peak recruitment of Australian smelt in a subset of rivers sampled.

Sampling of larvae and juvenile fish using seine nets, drift nets and throw nets was conducted within six rivers in the MDB (some flow managed and some non-flow managed) (Fig 1). Water quality parameters and food availability were also sampled. All larval and a subset of juvenile fish were aged, and length/age relationships were explored to calculate hatch date. Daily flow data was used to investigate relationships between discharge, temperature and biomass of zooplankton and epibenthos (organisms which live on the surface of the riverbed or other structure in the river).

brown table 1

An Australian Smelt otolith showing increments used to estimate age. (Photo courtesy Paul Humphries)

Figure 2. An Australian Smelt otolith showing increments used to estimate age. (Photo courtesy Paul Humphries)

Findings:

A total of 19 species — 14 native and 5 alien — were collected from the six rivers, and most showed evidence of spawning and recruitment in both years of the study. Because of small and patchy abundances, only Australian Smelt could effectively be compared among all rivers (Fig 2), whilst a small suite of species could be compared for a subset of rivers.

The project found that overall species presence differed depending on region. However, substantial differences in species composition were also found between pairs of rivers (flow-managed versus non flow-managed) within regions. In addition to this, the study found that in the Southern and Northern regions, common species tended to begin spawning earlier, and spawn for longer, in flow-managed rivers compared to their non flow-managed counterparts. In the Lower Region the opposite was the case. The results point to the fact that timing and duration of breeding of fish in rivers are likely influenced more by local differences in flow than broader climate and geographical influences.

The study identified three types of spawning strategies: ‘brief’ spawners (only spawn for one or two months), ‘flexible’ spawners (spawning period varies by river and by year), and ‘protracted’ spawners (spawning consistently spans more than two months). Only Gambusia (Gambusia holbrooki) fitted the last criteria. Australian Smelt were found to be a ‘flexible’ spawner, and its success cannot be purely because of its supposed protracted spawning behaviour.

Most species spawned over a long enough period to indicate that recruitment was not proportional to larval production. This was shown best for Australian Smelt — in most cases the early hatching events resulted in relatively poor recruitment, and later hatchings resulted in relatively good recruitment.

Whereas timing and duration of spawning seemed to be influenced by local factors, timing of recruitment tended to be similar for rivers within regions, except for the Ovens/King and the Goulburn systems. Preliminary comparisons of environmental variables with food availability suggested that temperature (positively) and discharge (negatively) influence production of the smallest size classes of zooplankton and that the first significant rise in zooplankton coincided with peak Australian Smelt recruitment in the Ovens River.

Lessons learned and future directions: This research will lead to better management of flows released from dams to facilitate spawning and recruitment of native fish species. This is likely to result in increased recruitment and enhancement of native fish populations. 

Stakeholders and Funding bodies: This project was funded through the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Native Fish Strategy, and delivered by a research team from the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre.

Contact: Dr. Paul Humphries, Charles Sturt University, (02) 60519920, phumphries@csu.edu.au.

Plant communities of seasonal clay-based wetlands of south-west Australia: weeds, fire and regeneration

Kate Brown and Grazyna Paczkowska

Key words: regeneration, fire, seasonal wetlands

 While the majority of seasonal wetlands in south-west Australia are connected to regional ground water, some found on clay substrates rely solely on rainwater to fill. These seasonal clay-based wetlands fill with winter rains and are characterised by temporally overlapping suites of annual and perennial herbs that flower and set seed as the wetlands dry through spring. Over summer the clay substrates dry to impervious pans. The seasonal clay-based wetlands of south-west Australia comprise a flora of over 600 species, of which at least 50% are annual or perennial herbs, 16 occur only on the clay-pans and many are rare or restricted.

These ecological communities are amongst the most threatened in Western Australia and have recently been listed under the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act as critically endangered. Over 90% have been cleared for agriculture and urban development and weed invasion is a major threat to those that remain. South African geophytes are serious weeds within these communities and Watsonia (Watsonia meriana var. bulbillifera) in particular can form dense monocultures and displace the herbaceous understorey.

Watsonia invading  a seasonal clay-based wetland

Watsonia invading a seasonal clay-based wetland

Regeneration following weed control and fire.  We investigated the capacity of the plant community of such a wetland to regenerate following removal of Watsonia, and the role of fire in the restoration process.

 Our study site, Meelon Nature Reserve, is a remnant clay-based wetland on the eastern side of the Swan Coastal Plain 200 km south of Perth. A series of transects were established in August 2005 and regeneration of plant community following Watsonia control and then unplanned fire was monitored until September 2011 (Table 1).

 Table 1: Six years of monitoring regeneration of a seasonal wetland at Meelon Nature Reserve

August 2005 Thirty 1m x 1m  quadrats established along five 30m transects in the wetlands where Watsonia was estimated to average greater that 75% cover.
September 2005 Cover ( modified Braun Blaquet) recorded for all native and introduced taxa and then Watsonia treated with the herbicide 2-2DPA (10g/L) + the penentrant Pulse® (2.5 mL/L).
September 2006 Cover recorded for all native and introduced taxa and then Watsonia treatment reapplied.
February 2007 Unplanned wild fire burnt across the study site.
September 2007  each year until September 2011 Cover recorded for all native and introduced taxa and then any Watsonia treated.

Analysis of similarity (ANOSIM) was undertaken to determine if there was significant change in species cover and composition from before Watsonia control to six years following the initial treatment. A  SIMPER analysis was used to ascertain the contribution of each species to any changes between monitoring years (Clarke & Gorley 2006).

Results. In the first year of the control program, a 97% reduction in the cover of Watsonia was recorded, but was associated with no significant change in the diversity or abundance of native flora. In February 2007, 18 months after the initial control program, an unplanned summer wildfire burnt through the reserve. In September 2007 monitoring revealed a significant increase in cover and diversity of native species in the treatment areas. Some species such as the Dichopogon preissii had not been recorded before the fire, others, such as the native sedges, Cyathochaeta avenacea and Chorizandra enodis increased greatly in cover following the fire. At the same time there was no resprouting of Watsonia or recruitment from cormels or seed.

Six years after the initial treatment the native sedges and rushes continue to increase in cover, the dominant native shrub Viminaria juncea is increasing, Eucalyptus wandoo seedlings are recruiting into the site and native grasses and geophytes are increasing in cover. The indications are that plant communities of the seasonal clay-based wetlands of south-west Australia have the capacity to recover following major weed invasion and that fire can play a role in the restoration process.

Table 2. Species that contributed to 90% of the significant change in cover and composition of species between 2005 and 2011.

 

2005

2011

Species

Average abundance (% cover)

Average abundance (% cover)

Cyathochaeta avenacea

10.0

23.5

Chorizandra enodis

2.3

15.7

Viminaria juncea

2.1

15.4

Caesia micrantha

2.6

2.7

Briza sp. Meelon

3.1

2.0

Eucalyptus wandoo

0.0

3.0

Austrodanthonia acerosa

0.4

1.8

Hypoxis occidentalis

0.0

1.9

Lepidosperma sp. WT2Q5 Meelon

0.1

1.3

Meeboldina sp. MU3 Meelon 2011

0.2

1.4

Dichopogon preissii

0.0

1.3

Drosera rosulata

1.5

0.2

Contact: Kate Brown, Ecologist, Swan Region. Department of Environment and Conservation, PO Box, 1167 Bentley Delivery Centre, WA, 6983. Email: kate.brown@dec.wa.gov.au

Chorizandra enodis

Chorizandra enodis

Dichopogon preissii

Dichopogon preissii

Hypoxis occidentalis

Hypoxis occidentalis

Macquarie University – Turpentine/Ironbark forest Regeneration

John Macris 

Key words: Bush Regeneration, Privets, Pittosporum, in-situ conservation.

Less than 5% of the original extent of Turpentine/Ironbark forest of the Sydney Basin Bioregion remains and so this forest type is listed is listed as critically endangered under the Commonwealth EPBC Act. Weed management and rehabilitation of remnants are priority conservation actions under the Act.

A 3.5 ha remnant of Turpentine/Ironbark forest located on the Macquarie University Campus has been the focus of a bush regeneration program that commenced in 2010.  Prior to the works, the site was variable in condition, with a core area near a watercourse having relatively high species diversity including Blackthorn (Bursaria spinosa) and the rare shrub Epacris purpurascens, while edges of this area contained a diversity of weed species.  An upslope area was more highly disturbed as it had been used as a breeding enclosure for research into rare rock wallabies until around 2005.

Works to date. Commencing in Autumn 2010, contract bush regeneration works included culling of the over-represented native Sweet Pittosporum (Pittosporum undulatum) in the core area, and removal of invasive weeds, principally a dense mid-story of the woody weeds Large-leaved Privet (Ligustrum lucidum) and Small-leaved Privet (L. sinense) throughout the treatment area.  Any large Privet logs were retained as habitat. Pampas Grass was removed from around the perimeter and, in a few places, Lantana  (Lantana camara) was also removed, although some has been retained as an interim small bird habitat in a few locations. Follow up work has mainly focused on a range of herbaceous weeds including Ehrhardta (Ehrhardta erecta), and gradual exhaustion from the seed bank of the problem woody weed species.

Results Prior to works, we estimated that about 10% of remnant was in relatively good condition.  About 2.5 years on, we now estimate that about 15% – 20% of the area is now in a resilient condition. Native species regenerating include a range of native grasses and forbs including Blady Grass (Imperata cylindrica), Basket Grass (Oplismenus aemulus), Weeping Grass (Microlaena stipoides), Tufted Hedgehog Grass (Echinopogon caespitosus),Blue Flax Lily (Dianella caerulea), Plume Grass (Dichelachne sp.), Finger Grass (Digitaria parviflora) Bordered Panic Grass (Entolasia marginata), Pastel Flower (Pseuderanthemum variabile) and Kidney Weed (Dichondra repens). Tree saplings including Turpentine (Syncarpia glomulifera) and Smooth-barked Apple (Angophora costata) have been uncovered and are developing in height. The colonizing shrub Kangaroo Apple Solanum aviculare has rapidly developed a rudimentary native mid story in the areas cleared of dense Privet.

Woody weed domination of the understorey before the works commenced

Same view 2years later (2012) showing ground stratum regeneration

Lessons learned. To create a robust weed buffer to the regeneration area, we decided it was important to start work in upslope areas, even though they were disturbed by the previous animal research enclosure (e.g. artificial soil profiles).  Due to same competing uses, such areas have been challenging stablise against weed resurgence, but a management edge is being established gradually.

Acknowledgements.  Sixty per cent of the first 15 months funding for the project was provided by Sydney Metropolitan CMA through their Saving Sydney’s Biodiversity Program with the rest covered by the University.  Subsequent work has been funded under Macquarie University’s Biodiversity restoration programs. Warren Jack from the contractor Sydney Bush Regeneration Company contributed much of the above species list of ground layer regeneration.

Contact: John Macris, Macquarie University. john.macris@mq.edu.au Tel: +61 (0)2 9850 4103

Fingal Headland Maritime Themeda Grassland Restoration

Keywords: Grassland, Themeda Grasslands on Sea-cliffs and Headlands, headland ecosystems, bush regeneration, Fingal Head Coastcare, Plectranthus cremnus

Kieran Kinney

Fingal Head, whose first inhabitants are members of the Cudginburra Clan, is a famous beauty spot in the far north coast of NSW, heavily utilised for recreation such as fishing, surfing, whale and dolphin watching and family outings. It is estimated that upwards of 50,000 visitors per annum use the site. As a result of this and other impacts including unfettered goat grazing (commencing around the lighthouse in the late 19th century), the site has many management challenges, including extensive gully and rill erosion, trampling of native vegetation, wildflower harvesting and weed invasion.

Prior to treatment, the ground cover layer was almost completely dominated by a form of the exotic Buffalo Grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum) and a suite of other weeds including Bitou Bush (Chrysanthemoides monilifera ssp rotundata). Because similar headlands in the region (Norries Head and Hastings Point Headland) support the State-listed  Endangered Ecological Community Themeda Grasslands on Sea-cliffs and Headlands it is assumed that Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) was native to the site and became locally extinct due to the history of grazing and weed invasion.

Project works: In 2009 Fingal Head Coastcare determined that work to address the serious weed problems should commence and that trials be undertaken to reintroduce Kangaroo Grass.  Several small plots (100m² ea.) were sprayed with herbicide and slashed (Fig 1). Regenerating weed was regularly removed.

Fig 1: Trial plot 1 -  Natural regeneration within patch of treated Buffalo Grass

The plots were sown with Kangaroo Grass seed collected from other headlands in the region. The material used is a genetically distinct coastal form of Kangaroo Grass that exhibits a unique decumbent growth habit. Ripe fruiting culms were distributed in quadrats as well as randomly over the plots.

In addition to the Kangaroo Grass trials, efforts were made to plant a variety of typical Grass and Forbland species, including Golden Everlasting Daisy (Xerochrysum bracteatum), Evolvulus alsinoides and Chamaechrista maritima. These were propagated in the Fingal Coastcare nursery from seed and stock sourced at nearby headlands.

Results. Regeneration of native species  was extensive across the plots (Figures 2a and 2b). Regenerating native species included Prickly Couch (Zoyzia macrantha), Native Violet (Viola banksii), Angled Lobelia (Lobelia alata) Plectranthus (Plectranthus cremnus) and Beach Bean (Canavalea rosea).

Fig 2a: Typical Buffalo Grass infestation prior to commencement of trials.

Fig 2b: Example of regeneration of native grasses Prickly Couch and Blady Grass after works (Plot 1, 2011).

Both the Kangaroo Grass  and the Everlasting Daisy (Figure 3) have since naturalised on the site. However, the plots revealed very poor rates of germination of Kangaroo Grass, approximately 1 in1000. Germination rates were much higher under controlled nursery conditions

Fig 3: Everlasting Daisy re-established and recruiting on Fingal Headland.

Outcomes and lessons learned The low rate of Kangaroo Grass germination is not regarded as a major impediment to the overall success of the project. As natural processes and cycles come into play, it is probable that Kangaroo Grass will become a significant part of the biota on the headland. That is,  achieving the ultimate aim of a Closed Tussock Themeda Grassland is probably unlikely through reintroduction from the seed sowing methods we used, but may occur naturally over time.

The extensive natural regeneration of the threatened Plectranthus cremnus is a major success of the trials.  This herb species is habitat for a local population of Blue-tongue Lizards and Bearded Dragons. It is a major food source for the reptiles, supplementing their animal diet, which may be very seasonal.

Erosion control has been significantly reduced through active intervention, using hard infrastructure in combination with ‘low key’, passive techniques such as strategic plantings and bush debris.

Local school children are involved in the plantings on an ongoing basis, and have picked up vital local knowledge and site ownership along the way. This project has been a major education experience for the Coastcare group, the Tweed Byron local Aboriginal Land Council and many members of the Fingal Head Community who were previously not aware of this Endangered Ecological Community . The trial areas are now a profusion of wildflowers almost the year round and the Coastcare volunteers receive many compliments from the passing public. During working bees on the site considerable energy is devoted to educating the public about the Grasslands in the hope that this will assist in their protection (and also because it is a lot of fun!)  Anyone who visits the site will be captivated by the delicate beauty of the native flora, the awesome scale of the natural scenery and will surely agree that something special is happening here.

Where to from here?: One of the most challenging and pressing issues facing the headland is uncontrolled pedestrian traffic. Although this may be unavoidable to some extent, it is desirable for the long term health of the ecosystem that some control methods be introduced to the site. Trials have been conducted using bush debris with limited success. More permanent methods would have to be carefully designed and implemented in order to blend with the unique aesthetics of the site. Boardwalk construction has been very successful in key areas, however this type of construction is deemed inappropriate for the grassland proper.  Dense vegetative barriers consisting of tussock forming species such as Spiny Mat Rush (Lomandra longifolia) and Knobbly Club Rush (Isolepis nodosa) are being planted to rationalise the trackways and guide pedestrians away from more sensitive areas.

In terms of the vegetation restoration works, ongoing and extensive follow-up weed control is required and it is envisaged that as each plot is stabilised and achieves manageable levels of autonomy, new areas will be opened up for weed control. It is recommended that a formal Restoration Plan be developed and implemented, perhaps through funding avenues or the involvement of Environmental Science students. This would greatly assist guiding the works over an extended period and help achieve the best possible outcomes for Fingal Headland and the wider community.

Partners and Investors: Fingal Head Coastcare Inc. consulted with the Tweed Shire Council, The Tweed Byron Local Aboriginal Land Council and a number of community groups to plan this project. The community groups include the Fingal Heads Community Association, the Fingal Head Public School, Fingal Rovers SLSC, local businesses and other Tweed Coast Dune care groups.

Contact : Kieran Kinney,  Fingal Head Coastcare Project Manager, 28 Kurrajong Ave Cabarita Beach 2488. Tel:  +61 266763002 Mob: 0457356175.   Email : kierankinney@gmail.com

Jidaanga cultural project – endangered Phaius australis – Kempsey NSW

Key words: Indigenous land management, threatened species, translocation, recovery plans

Amie McElroy

In the early 2000s, Dunghutti/Gumbainggirr Elder and one of  the founding members of Booroongen Djugun College, Aunty Maggie Morris, advised the College board that there was a small colony of the nationally listed Endangered orchid, Phaius australis, also known as the Swamp Orchid or Swamp Lily, in the Kempsey Area on the mid north coast of NSW.  Finding this orchid then became a key aim of the Natural Resources Unit of the College. In 2007, volunteer staff member, Phil March, then retraced the ‘steps’ of Aunty Maggie and found the orchid in her childhood area. 

Figure 1. Phaius australis Jidaanga in situ (© Booroongen Djugun College)

NSW Department of Environment and Heritage (then DECCW) believe this newly located colony to be the southern limit of the Swamp Orchid, the next nearest colony being near Coffs Harbour approximately 100km north. There are currently about 14 known populations in NSW, most with very few plants.
Because the colony is at risk, the College formed an Aboriginal Natural Resource Agreement with DECCW who provided a grant of $25,000, to allow BDC establish The Phaius australis recovery project and the Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority. Through this project, two plants were removed under scientific licence to be kept at separate locations as an insurance measure in case of the loss of the natural plants. These have been successfully nurtured, and seed collected from them is being held in laboratory conditions for propagation.

The population has been subjected to seed collection and minimal weed removal by a Dunghutti Indigenous weed management team selected by the local Aboriginal community, who received accredited training in Conservation and Land Management through the College. This has substantially improved the health and flowering of the remaining population of Swamp Orchids over the last three flowering seasons.

Figure 2. Conservation and Land Management students propagating Phaius australis from flask in June 2011. (© Booroongen Djugun College)

Cultural Heritage Officers from the Northern Country Culture Heritage Division of DEH trained the team in cultural site surveying, and emphasis has been placed on renewing cultural connection to Phaius in ways that consistently involve the Traditional knowledge holders and Elders for their ecological expertise and advice.

The College has been successful in obtaining a NSW Government Environmental Trust ‘grant  of close to $100,000 to develop and implement a Translocation and Management Plan.  The Phaius australis Recovery – Increasing Native Habitat project, recently renamed  ‘Jidaanga Cultural Project – Endangered Phaius australis  – which aims to:

• obtain 1500 plants from culture and seed growing to a size where there is a reasonable chance of survival and reintroduction to a suitable habitat (approximately 1000 have been raised) by Jan 2012)
• development and implement a Translocation and Management Plan to identify suitable habitat where there is a likelihood of successful reintroduction (Identification of suitable sites is in development).
• integrate the Traditional ecological knowledge of the Dunghutti and Gumbaynggir peoples with the orthodox scientific skills of the Department of Environment and Heritage , in training Aboriginal participants to create a geographic information system
• provide further training opportunities for Aboriginal communities in Conservation and Land Management, incorporating the management actions for on ground works on ‘country’.

Figure 3. Propagated plants housed at Booroongen Djugun College December 2011. (© Booroongen Djugun College)

Through the collaborative efforts of our partners and the Dunghutti and Gumbaynggir Elders, this work intends to acknowledge the Aboriginal contribution and importance of saving a very important part of our cultural heritage.

Contact: Amie McElroy, Aboriginal Extension Project Officer, Aboriginal Communities, Macleay and Hastings and Nambucca Catchments, Booroongen Djugun College,  Locked bag 3 Kempsey NSW 2440 Australia. Tel: +61 2 6560 2005; Mob: 0427 621 577, Email: anrm@booroongendjugun.com.au

Natural and cultural resource management – The aspirations of the traditional custodians of the Bunya Mountains

Key words:  Araucaria bidwilii, Bunya, fire,  South East Queensland, traditional custodians

David Calland

Prior to colonisation, the Bunya Mountains was a place of large gatherings of the Aboriginal people of South East Queensland for the ‘Bonye Bonye’ festival; a time of feasting, ceremony, trading, betrothals and the settling of disputes. In years when there were heavy crops of the nutritious bunya nuts (from the native Bunya Pine, Araucaria bidwilii), invitations from custodians went out to groups towards the coast and to people as far away as the Clarence River in northern NSW and the Maranoa River over 350k to the west. Festivals took place from December to March and the last big recorded gathering was in the 1880s.

In August 2008 the first of a series of Stakeholder Forums were held on the Bunya Mountains of SE Queensland to discuss natural and cultural resource management issues and to explore ways for the Murri people of South East Queensland to become more actively involved in planning, research and on ground management of lands in the Bunya Mountains region.
Traditional Custodians from about twelve groups met with scientists, Government and Non Government Organisations and business representatives and as a result the Bunya Partnership Coordination Group (BPCG) and the Bunya Elders Council were formed to create Natural and Cultural Resource Management opportunities for Traditional Custodians.

Stakeholders on Mt Kiangarow (1126m).

Australian Government funding was secured to develop a Caring for Our Country Action Plan for the Bunya Mountains. The plan was published in late 2010.

In September 2009, a bid to the Australian Government for the Working on Country program was successful. This project is called the Bunya Mountains Murri Ranger Project. The project has employed 4 Indigenous Rangers, a Coordinator Ranger and a part time Administrative Assistant. The group is working collaboratively with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service on the Bunya Mountains National Park and the Western Downs Regional Council on Russell Park.

The Bunya Mountains support a unique assemblage of plants, animals and ecosystems and have been likened to an island of biodiversity surrounded by an ocean of plains of mainly cleared farmland. They are a biodiversity refuge, harbouring ancient species, distinct plant and animal communities and more than 30 rare and threatened species.

One hundred and nineteen grasslands, known locally as “balds”, are dotted across the Bunya Mountains. These balds have important cultural significance as they were maintained by traditional burning practice.

The first traditional burn in 100 years; Bunya Murri Rangers 2010.

A large component of the project involves the management of fire on the grasslands through experimental burns of varying frequencies and intensities. Researchers and rangers are working to find the right fire regimes to maintain the open character and species diversity of the balds before they are lost forever.

Contact: Dave Calland, Natural Resource Officer -Indigenous Engagement, Department of Environment and Resource Management. PO Box 573, Nambour Qld 4560, Australia.  Tel: +61 4 5451 2401 Mob: 0427 427246, Email: david.calland@derm.qld.gov.au

The use of fauna gates to facilitate the movement of Southern Brown Bandicoots Isoodon obesulus through a feral proof fence at the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne

Key words: fauna gates, feral proof fence

Bronwyn Merritt

The Southern Brown Bandicoot (SBB) Isoodon obesulus, once common along the coast from Sydney through to Adelaide, has dramatically declined in range and number since European settlement. Listed as an endangered species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, SBBs are threatened by habitat loss, isolation, fragmentation, urban infrastructure and predation by introduced predators such as foxes.

The Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne (RBGC) is regarded as one of the most secure remnant populations of SBBs in the Melbourne and Western Port region. The persistence and relatively high abundance of the species at the RBGC can be attributed to ongoing integrated feral animal control, feral proof fencing and vegetation management.

The RBGC is 363 hectares, with approximately 250 hectares of remnant vegetation listed as of state conservation significance. The site is bounded by an 8 kilometre ‘floppy top’ feral proof fence that has been an integral part of the fox control program. It has resulted in ongoing reduced fox numbers and the flow-on of significant benefits for the management of SBB. However, the fence also represents a barrier to the movement of native species and this may affect the viability of populations within and outside the RBGC.

It has been observed that smaller SBBs are able to pass thorough the 50mm diamond mesh cyclone wire of the feral proof fence. This activity is probably sufficient to reduce local genetic isolation for the species. However, in places the fence has been reinforced with a second or third layer of wire skirting to reduce rabbit incursions and has, therefore, become less permeable to a range of native fauna.

The RBGC has an ongoing program trialing different methods to make the fence selectively permeable to some animals, whilst limiting the movement of others. Originally, the RBGC developed custom made gates that allowed the movement of Common Wombats (Vombatus ursinus) and Long-necked Tortoises (Chelodina longicollis). More recently, the RBGC has developed and trialed the use of ‘Bandicoot gates’ that have allowed free movement of the endangered SBB through the fenceline.

The custom designed bandicoot gates were installed in the internal Australian Garden fence of RBGC through 2010-2011. The Australian Garden is an 11 hectare display garden of native plants. The aim of the bandicoot gates was to allow the free movement of bandicoots, but exclude rabbits. The gates were made using 90 mm PVC pipe. Different gate versions were trialed and the successful design included a weighted 100mm wide flap and cover to ensure the gate returned to the closed position. The gates were monitored using Reconyx™ infra-red cameras and have shown frequent bandicoot movement, with no evidence of other species use to date.

The ability of the SBBs to learn how to negotiate the gates has ongoing implications for the construction of semi-permeable feral proof fences. It may be possible that these gates could be modified and used by other conservation reserves with feral proof fencing, for the conservation of other endangered small mammals.

For the RBGC, this has implications for allowing the free movement of the SBB into the wider region beyond the boundary of the perimeter fence. Since 2002, the land surrounding the RBGC has been included in the Melbourne Urban Growth Boundary, which means the RBGC is likely to be land-locked by residential development in the near future. The development of these gates, and the implication of allowing increased movement of SBB from the RBGC into proposed biolinks, will have significant implications for the ongoing management and sustainability of this endangered species.

Acknowledgements: Terry Coates, Ollie Sherlock, RBGC Infrastructure branch, Jill Burness, Dave Hunt and Ricardo Simao.

Contact: Bronwyn Merritt, Coordinator Land Management and Infrastructure, Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne, 1000 Ballarto Road, Cranbourne, Victoria 3977. Ph (03) 5990 2221. Bronwyn.merritt@rbg.vic.gov.au

Integrated predator management on the south coast of Western Australia

Key words: predators, feral cat, adaptive management, natural area management, threatened species

Allan Burbidge

The Western Ground Parrot (‘kyloring’ to Noongar people) may be the ‘canary in the coal mine’ warning of imminent fauna collapse on the south coast of WA. Over the past decade, this species has undergone a dramatic decline, with the population currently estimated at 140 individuals. This is causing alarm bells to ring, as there is concern that a range of other threatened animals on the south coast may be at risk from the same threatening processes – species such as Gilberts Potoroo, Red-tailed Phascogale, Dibbler, Noisy Scrub-bird, Chuditch, Western Bristlebird and Malleefowl. Considerable progress in fire management strategies for these species has been made by WA’s Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) over the last few decades, and fox baiting under the Department’s Western Shield program has been in place since 1996. Despite these programs, however, the Ground Parrot population decline continued, leading to the hypothesis that control of foxes has resulted in an increase in the feral cat population (i.e. mesopredator release), with a corresponding increase in predation on native fauna.

Releasing a collared cat (Photo: Emma Adams/WA DEC)

Field trials of Eradicat® baits have been completed under a research permit in Fitzgerald River National Park. Half of the collared cats were killed by these baits, and bait uptake by non-target species was minimal. In 2011 this trial has been extended to include Cape Arid National Park where 19 cats have been fitted with collars, providing direct evidence of bait uptake. Monitoring of predator activity provides additional information on the success of cat baiting. Should this strategy prove effective, the benefits in the wider landscape will be significant.

Feral cat with bandicoot (Photo: WA DEC)

Several clear lessons arise from this work. First, it requires meaningful and ongoing interaction between researchers and managers to carry out robust field-scale adaptive management projects. Second, we have found that institutional barriers such as inappropriate funding timelines can waste the time of project leaders required to continually secure funding and retain skilled staff. Finally, while there is notional support for adaptive management, it is difficult to convince people to support its implementation adequately.

Putting a radio-collar on feral cat (Photo: Emma Adams/WA DEC)

Funding for this project has come from the Department of Environment and Conservation, State NRM, South Coast NRM Inc, Exetel Pty Ltd, Birds Australia and many volunteers. Numerous people have been active in this project including Sarah Comer, Cameron Tiller, Allan Burbidge, Abby Berryman and Deon Utber.

Further reading:
Comer, S., Burbidge, A. H., Tiller, C., Berryman, A., and Utber, D. (2010). Heeding Kyloring’s warning: south coast species under threat. Landscope 26(1), 48-53.

Contact: Sarah Comer (Department of Environment and Conservation, 120 Albany Highway, Albany, Western Australia 6330; tel (08) 9842 4500; email sarah.comer@dec.wa.gov.au) or Allan Burbidge (Department of Environment and Conservation, PO Box 51, Wanneroo, Western Australia 6946; tel (08) 9405 5100; email allan.burbidge@dec.wa.gov.au)

Fire management at Two Peoples Bay – Mt Manypeaks, Western Australia

Key words: environmental management, threatened species, collaboration, communication

Allan Burbidge

Fire management is a major challenge where there are multiple conservation values and potentially conflicting adjacent community values; the challenge is further exacerbated in landscapes involving rough terrain where access for fire management is difficult. All three factors occur in the Two Peoples Bay – Manypeaks area in south-western Australia, which is mostly conservation estate, with some water reserves, and surrounded by private land. In this often steep and rocky landscape, there are threatened vertebrates such as the Noisy Scrub-bird and Gilbert’s Potoroo, threatened plants and short range endemic relictual invertebrates, all with different habitat requirements, and therefore different management requirements. Superimposed on this are community values which involve the surrounding relatively small private holdings, with homes, timber plantations, stock and agricultural infrastructure

Bushfire on Mount Manypeaks (Photo: Ed Hatherley)

Fire management by the State conservation agencies in the area during the 1970s focussed on fire exclusion, as it was believed that this was optimal for the locally endemic and newly rediscovered Noisy Scrub-bird. However, this resulted in dangerous fuel levels, posing a threat to this species and other conservation values. Despite the need to reduce the threat, only minimal use of prescribed fire was able to be applied to manage fuel levels, because of the area’s difficult terrain and the requirements for many species for long interfire intervals.

Water bomber on route to fire (Photo: Sarah Comer)

The problem seemed intractable until local managers, researchers, senior agency managers and policy makers were brought together to debate the options in a focussed meeting. After considerable debate, this group agreed that selected prescription burns in the untracked zones of Mt Manypeaks could be carried out and some patchy ignition could be initiated on the upper slopes by aerial ignition, in a way that minimised negative impacts on populations of threatened species. This in itself was a challenge, as virtually everywhere in the 28 000 ha study area provided habitat for at least one threatened species.

Noisy Scrub-bird (Photo: Alan Danks)

This process is ongoing and adaptive, particularly in the sense that wildfires extent and impact can never be predicted, but some key points have emerged. First, no single group had all the answers or expertise to understand the complex situation, underlining the importance for all practitioners to embrace dynamic and ongoing partnerships. Progress only came with co-ordinated and collaborative commitment from researchers, policy makers and managers. Second, we found that generalised models are inadequate for (complex) individual cases, particularly where there are multiple species of interest, and these species have different management requirements. Third, the old linear model of management was simply not functional; new knowledge and assumptions concerning the dynamic nature of the threatened fauna and flora populations demanded dynamic management, preferably in an adaptive management framework.

Mount Manypeaks after fire (Photo: Sarah Comer)

Major players in this process have come from Nature Conservation Division and Science Division staff within the Department of Environment and Conservation, with species specific input from the South Coast Threatened Birds Recovery Team, Gilbert’s Potoroo Recovery Team and the Albany District Flora Recovery Team.  Strong collaboration with other land managers such as Water Corporation and plantation managers is essential for the successful management of the conservation interface with other land uses.

Further reading:
Comer, S., and Burbidge, A. H. (2006). Manypeaks rising from the ashes. Landscope 22(1), 51-55.

Contact: Sarah Comer (Department of Environment and Conservation, 120 Albany Highway, Albany, Western Australia 6330; tel (08) 9842 4500; email sarah.comer@dec.wa.gov.au ) and Allan Burbidge (Department of Environment and Conservation, PO Box 51, Wanneroo, Western Australia 6946; tel (08) 9405 5100; email allan.burbidge@dec.wa.gov.au)