Category Archives: Ecosystem services

Restoration of Wollongong’s Tom Thumb Lagoon 25 Years On: UPDATE of EMR feature.

 Nicholas Gill

[Update of EMR feature: Gill, Nicholas (2005) Slag, steel and swamp: Perceptions of restoration of an urban coastal saltmarsh. Ecological Management & Restoration, 6:2, 85-93 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2005.00224.x]

Keywords. coastal wetlands, urban green space, pollution, mangroves, volunteers.

Figure 1. Tom Thumb Lagoon and Greenhouse Park (a) 2008 and (b) 2017. (Source Google Earth)Introduction. The 2005 feature was drawn from restoration work my students and I became involved in during the early 2000s at Tom Thumb Lagoon (TTL) – an estuarine wetland close to Wollongong’s CBD and adjacent to the Port Kembla industrial area and harbour. By that point Wollongong City Council (WCC), the Bushcare group Friends of Tom Thumb Lagoon (FTTL), industry, Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA), and many volunteers had been variously working on the site since the early 1990s. After decades of impacts from industrial development, waste disposal, and neglect, this significant restoration effort encompassed removing landfill, reshaping the wetland with channels and shallow benches, revegetation, weeding, and the construction of access and viewing points. By the time we became involved and I wrote the 2005 paper, TTL and the adjacent Greenhouse Park (GHP; Fig 1), were substantially revegetated, aesthetically improved, and the saltmarsh wetlands were seen as ecologically valuable. Participants and stakeholders in the restoration project perceived that substantial progress and improvement had been made. They also perceived, however, that the project suffered from some issues common to such endeavours such as a lack strategic planning and monitoring of ecological outcomes.

Since this time, restoration and other work has continued at TTL and at GHP. The story of what has happened, however, is one of the dynamic and contextual nature of sites such as this. This is true in a biophysical sense of ongoing vegetation change, particularly the spread of Grey Mangrove (Avicenna marina), a native plant previously not occurring on the site but planted for perceived environmental benefits either in the 1990s, or around 2000. This spread (into what was previously saltmarsh and mudflats) arises from past decisions and, while providing benefits, is now potentially causing new problems as well as continuing debates about choices in restoration.  The social context has also been dynamic and influential, as priorities have shifted, as the funding environment has altered, and as the people and groups involved have changed. Finally, Tom Thumb Lagoon remains affected by the legacy of the industrial history of its location. Past waste disposal practices in the absence of regulation have led to pollution problems that have become of greater concern since the early 2000s.

Activities at Tom Thumb Lagoon and Greenhouse Park Today. The wetland area itself is adjacent to a capped waste disposal site that operated from the 1940s until the mid-1970s. This area is known now as Greenhouse Park and is being managed and developed as urban green space with more focus on fostering urban sustainability practices; any restoration work is nested within these foci. TTL and GHP were always associated through overlap between FTTL and GHP staff, and GHP facilities were a base for TTL activities. Today, however, personnel have changed, FTTL no longer exists and its key members are no longer associated with TTL, and TTL/GHP are managed as one site to a greater extent. The result of these factors, and of the achievements already made at TTL, have been a shift towards an emphasis on activities at GHP and a change in TTL activities from active restoration to maintenance. It is now GHP volunteers and associated WCC staff who undertake and oversee work at TTL. At GHP WCC has expended considerable resources in tree planting and expanding a permaculture garden. There is a shelter, outdoor kitchen, and pizza oven for volunteers, WCC and Wollongong firms compost green and food waste, and there are hopes for public, tourism, and event use. Around ten volunteers work at the site weekly. For the GHP staff and volunteers, activities at TTL itself today are largely limited to weeding, picking up litter, and feral animal control. Weeds and litter remain problems, partly due to TTL’s location at the bottom of an urban catchment. In addition, since 2005, frog ponds were installed at the eastern end of TTL for the endangered Green and Golden Bell frog (Litoria aurea), however, it is not clear if the ponds are effective. The non-native Giant Reed (Arundo donax) also remains well established at this end of TTL despite control attempts.

Shifts in support have meant that CVA bowed out of work at TTL/GHP in 2012. Previously their involvement had been via a wetlands program that relied on support from both industry (including Bluescope and NSW Ports, both operating adjacent to TTL) and government programs. Until 2012, in conjunction with WCC, CVA were revegetating the southern slopes of GHP (marked A in Fig. 1) and were removing weeds and litter from the saltmarsh. However, the funding that CVA relied on declined such that CVA was unable to continue at TTL/GHP.

Figure 2.  Eastern end of TTL looking south (a) 2002 and (b) 2019 (Photos Nick Gill)The Mangroves are Coming. Apart from further revegetation at GHP, the most significant vegetation change at TTL has been the spread of Grey Mangrove. While approval to thin this species has been obtained in the past and some thinning did occur, it has not mitigated their current spread and density. Grey Mangrove spread is clearly seen for the period from 2002 to 2019 in Fig 2 which shows the eastern end of TTL and the southern end of the channel known as Gurungaty Waterway. Aerial photos further reveal changes from 2008-2017 where the largely east-west spread of mangroves along channels in TTL can be seen (marked B in Fig 1). Significant spread can also be seen north-south spread along Gurungaty Waterway over this period (marked C in Fig 1). As the 2005 paper records, not long after Grey Mangrove was planted in the late 20th or early 21st Century, its expansion was  soon causing concern for its consequences for the site’s mudflats, saltmarsh and tidal habitats although it appears to have largely remained confined to the channels and has no doubt generated some environmental benefits. In terms of its consequences on bird habitat, the long observations of local birdwatchers suggest that the expansion of Grey Mangrove has reduced the incidence of waders and shorebirds, particularly Black Winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus) and also waterfowl and herons. Nonetheless, observers report that Grey  Mangrove colonisation is providing habitat for other birds, such as the Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus), the Nankeen Night-Heron (Nycticorax caledonicus), and the Striated Heron (Butorides striata). Elsewhere across more upland areas of TTL and GHP, the expansion of tree planting across GHP and TTL has seen a shift to birds favouring woodland habitats.

The expansion of Grey Mangrove is also implicated in flood risk, especially for the catchment of Gurungaty Waterway. A 2019 review of the Wollongong City Flood Study, suggests that low elevations and channel infrastructure, combined with sedimentation and flow limitations associated with the now dense mangroves (Fig. 3), have increased the likelihood of flooding in the urban catchment.

Figure 3.  Southern Gurangaty Waterway in (a) 2002 and (b) 2019. Note the steel footbridge on left of each photo. (Photos Nick Gill)Industrial Legacies. The 2005 paper notes that saltmarsh restoration was an important part of the TTL work and that stakeholders saw the saltmarsh as a significant ecological element of TTL. Since 2004 coastal saltmarsh has been listed as an Endangered Ecological Community in NSW. From 2006, saltmarsh degradation prompted WCC to monitor the saltmarsh and analyse groundwater and soils.  This showed that the degradation was likely associated with ammonia leaching from the tip and causing nitrate pollution, and also with a hydrophilic layer of iron hydroxide in the soil causing waterlogging and contaminant absorption. The possible origins of this layer include past waste disposal practices from metal manufacturing.

These, however, are not the only legacies of past unregulated waste disposal and industrial activity. TTL is now a declared site of ‘significantly contaminated land’ by the NSW EPA. The 2018 declaration notes that site is contaminated by ‘polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), petroleum hydrocarbons and other mixed contaminants from multiple sources including coal tar and lubricant oils’. At TTL elements of these can be visible as a film on the water surface and are among the substances leaching from GHP. Such substances are carcinogenic and exposure can cause a range of health problems. The presence of these materials in the groundwater has been known since the 1990s but from 2013 WCC began to monitor and map these materials. Monitoring points were installed along the wetlands at base of the old tip. Various remediation options for these contaminants, as well as for the nitrates and iron hydroxide layer, were proposed but action was not taken at this time for various reasons including disruption to the wetland, costs, and uncertainties regarding pollutant interception. As of 2019, the site is subject to a ‘Voluntary Management Proposal’ by WCC which includes the preparation of a remediation action plan by late 2019.

Future Directions. The last fifteen years have seen some aspects of restoration, such as tree planting, proceed and expand. By some measures this is continued progress of the original project. TTL/GHP is now a well-established urban green space with environmental and amenity value. However, concerns from the early 2000s about volunteer succession, the absence of a catchment approach to management, and the need to think more strategically about ecological trade-offs between management options have been realised to some extent. The spread of Grey Mangrove is the clearest example of this. In part, some of this is perhaps inevitable for a site with the history and setting of TTL/GHP; the management context has changed, participants and stakeholders have changed, and difficult legacy issues have assumed greater prominence and cost. Nonetheless, the challenge to manage the site with a clear strategy and goals remains.

Acknowledgements: For assistance with this update, I am indebted to several past and present WCC staff, particularly Mike McKeon. I was also helped by Adam Woods, formerly of CVA, and birdwatchers Penny Potter, Terrill Nordstrom, and David Winterbottom.

Contact. Nicholas Gill, School of Geography and Sustainable Communities Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Wollongong NSW 2522 Australia, Email: ngill@uow.edu.au

Ecological Restoration of Donaghys Corridor, Gadgarra, north Queensland – UPDATE of EMR feature

[Update of EMR feature – Tucker, Nigel I. J. and Tania Simmons (209) Restoring a rainforest habitat linkage in north Queensland: Donaghy’s Corridor, Ecological Management & Restoration, 10:2, 98-112, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2009.00471.x%5D

Nigel Tucker

Keywords: Rainforest, corridor, regeneration, disturbance effects

Introduction. Complex notophyll vine forests of the Atherton Tablelands, particularly from basalt derived soils, have been significantly fragmented and degraded by human settlement over a 100yr period. Fragment isolation results in edge effects, exotic species colonisation, loss of genetic variability and species decline. During high rainfall events, eroding streambanks on farms mobilise sediments to the receiving environment of the Great Barrier Reef. Re-connecting isolated fragments to larger forest blocks through restored riparian corridors aims to reverse these effects through adaptive management. The restoration of Donaghys Corridor is an example of adaptive management, and its establishment was a key factor in the adoption of other local corridor projects.

As reported in the 2009 features, around 20,000 plants of selected local species were established in four yearly plantings (1995/96/97/98) along Toohey Creek, creating a continuous habitat corridor between the isolated Lake Barrine fragment (500ha) and the adjacent Gadgarra section of Wooroonooran N.P (80,000ha), both being part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. The corridor is 1,200m in length and 100m wide, with three rows of Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamiana) planted either side of the fenced corridor, which was established on lands largely owned by the Donaghy family. On completion, the corridor was secured through the Queensland Government’s declaration of Donaghys Corridor Nature Refuge, the State’s first Nature Refuge proclaimed over an ecologically restored site.

Ongoing recovery. In 2000, a vegetation survey of 3m x 5m plots in 12 permanent transects throughout the corridor showed regeneration had occurred upon canopy closure (Tucker and Simmons 2009).  Between 1995 and 1998, 119 native species had regenerated within the transects, mainly through vertebrate-mediated dispersal. The most recent (ongoing) survey, ca.20yrs after planting, indicates that regeneration has continued, and the majority of regenerating species are again vertebrate dispersed. There has also been a measurable increase in vegetation structural complexity, and a variety of life forms are present including ferns, orchids, vines, scramblers and canopy trees.

Restored vegetation in 2000 was characterised by vegetation of even age and size classes and only a developing canopy was present (no sub-canopy). Recruitment was limited to the ground storey. Over 20yrs, total numbers of recruiting species have increased, along with canopy height, and the sub-canopy is now a distinguishable and measurable feature. To illustrate this change, species diversity and structure in two typical transects from the oldest (1995) and youngest (1998) plantings are shown in the table below. Figures are from the most recent survey (2019) and the bracketed numbers indicate comparative values in 2000.

Canopy

height

Sub-canopy

Height

Number of species Average number of species/plot Average number of species/plot – sub-canopy Average number of species/plot – ground storey
1995 19.9 (5) 7.5 (0) 84 (53) 22.6 (12.5) 8.3 13.8
1998 14.4 (2.5) 7.3 (0) 63 (15) 14.2 (1.6) 2.2 15.8

There has also been a significant difference in the distribution of regenerating vegetation. In 2000, regeneration was negatively correlated with edge, being concentrated in the central portion of each transect. Greater structural complexity and increased shading have significantly reduced the edge effect and regeneration is now distributed equally across the entire width of the corridor. This edge-effect reduction may partially result from the three Hoop Pine rows, now ca.15m tall, planted on each side of the corridor.

Figure 1.  Part of the 18m x 250m fence crossing Donaghys Corridor

Natural and man-made disturbance. Since establishment there has been both natural and anthropogenic disturbance. Occasional incursions by cattle have occurred, entering via fences sometimes damaged by branches falling from maturing corridor vegetation. In small areas incursions have visibly damaged regeneration but surveys show this has not significantly affected regeneration. Feral pig disturbance has also occurred but does not appear to have affected regeneration.

In 2006, corridor vegetation was damaged by severe tropical Cyclone Larry. Most stems lost crowns and some waters’ edge stems were permanently bent by floodwaters, but vegetation recovery was rapid and no weed invasion occurred. This infers a measure of resilience by restored vegetation to disturbance, and the distribution of regeneration described above supports this inference.

Anthropogenic disturbance has been more interventionist and not aligned to the original concept adopted by government, landholders, scientists and the community when the project commenced in 1995.  In 2017, the corridor’s upstream neighbour, with support from the DES but without consultation with the Donaghy family or other affected landholders, erected a chain mesh fence 250m long and 1.8m high across the western end of the corridor (see Figure 1). This is part of a larger fence which completely encloses mature forest at the western end of the corridor, including corrugated iron placed across the bed of Toohey Creek. Enquiries revealed the fence is part of an enclosure for a Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii) rehabilitation facility, operated by Rainforest Reserves Australia (RRA) under a commercial arrangement with the Queensland Government.

Enhancing landscape permeability was the key reason for undertaking the Donaghys Corridor project, and the endangered Cassowary was a key target species; 53 Cassowary food plants were included in the original planting matrix of 100 species to encourage corridor utilisation. The Queensland Government notes that corridors are a key strategy in Cassowary conservation. In addition to blocking the movement of terrestrial vertebrates such as Cassowaries, Pademelon (Thylogale stigmatica) and Musky Rat Kangaroo (Hypsiprymnodon moschatus), construction of the enclosure has inadvertently fenced in a number of animals whose territories included part of the enclosure.

DES has advised that the fence is temporary and will be removed when restoration plantings on RRA lands are ‘sufficiently well-developed’ to support Cassowaries being rehabilitated.  It is unknown, however, when or through what processes this removal will occur. Resolution of the issue is anticipated.  However, such actions highlight the pitfalls associated with single-species conservation, and potential conflicts that might arise when responsibility for management of endangered species moves from the State to the non-scientific, commercially-focused private sector. Whilst iconic wildlife e.g., the Cassowary, can be effective in harnessing community and landholder participation in restoration, here it is clear that decision making and communication has been far from optimal, which may well lead to landholder and community disillusionment. In this case, the fence has also disrupted ongoing monitoring and evaluation. Planned re-survey of terrestrial vertebrate colonisation and movement has now been cancelled, given the unknown effect of the fence on wildlife passage and the behaviour of animals inadvertently trapped within the enclosure.

Lessons learned.  The project shows that sustained regeneration of native species can be achieved in restored tropical vegetation, along with increased structural complexity and functional resilience to natural disturbance.  However, the fencing incident shows that dysfunction in a restoration project can arise from totally unanticipated causes, potentially undoing well-established partnerships between government, community, scientists and landholders.

Contact.  Nigel Tucker, Director & Principal Environmental Scientist, Biotropica.  PO Box 866 Malanda QLD 4885 ; Email: nigeltucker@biotropica.com.au; Tel: +61 7 4095 1116.

 

 

 

Restoring the banks of the Namoi on Kilmarnock – UPDATE of EMR feature

Robyn R. Watson

[Update of EMR feature – Watson R. (2009) Restoring the banks of the Namoi on ‘Kilmarnock’: Success arising from persistence. Ecological Management & Restoration,  10: 1 pp 10-19 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2009.00434.x]

Figure 1. Casuarina (Casuarina cunninghamiana), River Red Gum and a range of grasses established on river bank at Kilmarnock after restoration works. (Photo R. Watson)

Riverbank restoration began on Kilmarnock in early 1990 with fencing the river area and planting native trees, shrubs and grasses. A program of killing the weeping willows resulted in their elimination by 2000. Tree lines were planted to connect the river corridor to natural conservation areas around the farm and this has resulted in a gradual increase in native wildlife leading to great environmental benefits both for the farm and surrounding areas.

Prior to the works the riparian zones on Kilmarnock had degraded to the extent that the banks were slumping during floods, with loss of old trees. This had arisen from decades of clearing, grazing and weed invasion.  Since 2009 we can report that the fenced-off river corridor has continued to recover with native grasses  beneath the trees, particularly Phragmites (Phragmites australis)  and Vetiver Grass (Chrysopogon zizaniodes) which are growing well on the steep river banks (Fig 1).  As the trees in the riparian corridor grew, additional tree lines were planted throughout the farm to connect the riparian zone to retained native vegetation areas and other set-aside conservation areas. This has led to an increase in native birds, micro bats and beneficial insect numbers.

Wildlife have returned to the area, including Little Pied Cormorant (Microcarbo melanoleucos) and  Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax varius) nesting in the River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) trees one year. Flocks of Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus) and Spotted Pardalote (Pardalotus punctatus)  have been observed in the trees along the riparian zones.  Pink Eared Duck (Malacorhynchus membranaceus), Musk Duck (Biziura lobata)(, Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) and Brolga (Antigone rubicunda) visited wetland areas on the farm. There has been a noticeable increase in the small birds such as three different wrens including Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus) and Variegated Fairy-wren (Malurus lamberti) and Australasian Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae).

The planted irrigated cotton crop was not sprayed with insecticide for 12 years after the increase in beneficial insect and bird numbers. Nest boxes have been installed in the conservation areas for the micro bats.  Fourteen species of insectivorous micro bats have been recorded on the farm since the rehabilitation work began. Stubble quail (Coturnix pectoralis) have been nesting in the conservation areas.

Figure 2. Log groins with planted native trees established on steep river bend near Boggabri through the Namoi Demonstration Reach Project (2007-14) coordinated by the NSW Dept of Primary Industries. (Photo R. Watson)

Further works undertaken nearby.  After seeing the improvement on our farm some adjoining landholders have begun fencing off their river areas and introducing rehabilitation measures on their farms. In one outstanding collective example, 120 kilometres of the Namoi Demonstration Reach Project was established by the NSW Dept of Primary Industries both upstream and downstream of Kilmarnock, from 2007 to 2014.  This This involved contractors, working with permission of a number of landholders, planting over eight thousand trees and shrubs along the river and constructing log groins at a badly eroding river bend near the Boggabri township.  These groins have worked well and have withstood a couple of small floods.  The trees planted on the steep banks have also established well (Fig. 2).


Figure 3. – Planted Phragmites saved the river bank from bush fire in 2017. (Photo R. Watson)

A major bushfire in 2017 spread across the river to the top of the banks on the Kilmarnock side of the river.  Because of the planted Phragmites on the river edge there was no damage done to the toe of the river bank (Fig 3) and we were able to bulldoze firebreaks to protect  the planted trees affected from the fire.)  However, a number of the old River Red Gums were badly burnt. Many of the very old hollow trees were killed by the fire but less hollow ones have begun to grow again, although this growth has been slowed by the present drought.

With the 2019 drought conditions the Namoi River has dried out, exposing the river bed.  This has given me a chance to observe the river bed.  I have been able to photograph and document the debris on the sand banks and the remaining water holes and show that there are now substantial amounts of hollow logs and debris (Fig. 4)  which can  provide good habitat for fish and water creatures when the stream is flowing.

Our family has purchased more land downstream on the Namoi River and we have implemented rehabilitation on the river banks, tree planting and conservation measures on those farms.

Contact.  Robyn Watson, Kilmarnock, Boggabri, NSW 2382, Australia; Tel: 02 67434576 Email: wjwatson@northnet.com.au

Figure 4. Hollow log and debris on riverbed provide fish habitat when river is flowing. (Photo R. Watson)

 

Recovering Murray-Darling Basin fishes by revitalizing a Native Fish Strategy – UPDATE of EMR feature

John Koehn, Mark Lintermans and Craig Copeland

[Update of EMR Feature: Koehn JD, Lintermans M, Copeland C (2014) Laying the foundations for fish recovery: The first 10 years of the Native Fish Strategy for the Murray‐Darling Basin, Australia. Ecological Management & Restoration, 15:S1, 3-12. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/14428903/2014/15/s1]

Key words restoration, native fish populations, threatened species, Australia, Murray-Darling Basin

Figure 1. The construction of fishways can help restore river connectivity by allowing fish movements past instream barriers. (Photo: ARI.)

 Introduction. Fish populations in the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB), Australia, have suffered substantial declines due to a wide range of threats and there is considerable concern for their future. Given these declines and the high ecological, economic, social and cultural values of fish to the Australian community, there is a need to recover these populations. In 2003, a Native Fish Strategy (NFS) was developed to address key threats; taking a coordinated, long-term, multi-jurisdictional approach, focussed on recovering all native fish (not just angling species) and managing alien species. The strategy objective was to improve populations from their estimated 10% of pre-European settlement levels, to 60% after 50 years of implementation.

To achieve this the NFS was intended to be managed as a series of 10-year plans to assist management actions in four key areas; the generation of new knowledge, demonstration that multiple actions could achieve improvements to native fish populations, building of a collaborative approach, and the communication of existing as well as newly-acquired science. The NFS successfully delivered more than 100 research projects across six ‘Driving Actions’ in its first 10 years, with highlights including the implementation of the ‘Sea to Hume’ fishway program (restoring fish passage to >2 200 km of the Murray River, Fig 1), improved knowledge of fish responses to environmental water allocations, development of new technologies for controlling alien fish, methods to distinguish hatchery from wild-bred fish, creating a community partnership approach to ‘ownership’ of the NFS, and rehabilitating fish habitats using multiple interventions at selected river (demonstrations) reaches.  The NFS partnership involving researchers, managers, policy makers and the community delivered an applied research program that was rapidly incorporated into on-the-ground management activities (e.g. design of fishways; alien fish control, environmental watering; emergency drought interventions). The NFS largely coincided with the Millennium Drought (1997-2010) followed by extensive flooding and blackwater events, and its activities contributed significantly to persistence of native fish populations during this time.

Funding for the NFS program ceased in 2012-13, after only the first decade of implementation but the relationships among fishers, indigenous people and government agencies have continued along with a legacy of knowledge, development of new projects and collaborative networks with key lessons for improved management of native fishes (see http://www.finterest.com.au/).

Figure 2. Recreational fishers are a key stakeholder in the Murray-Darling Basin, with a keen desire to have sustainable fishing for future generations. (Photo: Josh Waddell.)

Further works undertaken. Whilst the NFS is no longer funded as an official project, many activities have continued though a range of subsequent projects; some are highlighted below:

  • Environmental water: development of fish objectives and implementation of the Basin Plan, northern MDB complementary measures, further investigation of mitigation measures for fish extraction via pumps and water diversions.
  • Fishways: Completion of sea to Lake Hume fishway program and other fishways such as Brewarrina
  • Community engagement: Continuation of many Demonstration (recovery) reaches and intermittent NFS Forums (Fig 2).
  • Recreational fishery management: engagement of anglers through the creation of the Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii) fishery management group and OzFish Unlimited.
  • Threatened species recovery: success with Trout Cod (Maccullochella macquariensis)  (Fig 3) and Macquarie Perch (Macquaria australasica) populations, development of population models for nine MDB native fish species.
  • Knowledge improvement: research has continued, as has the publication of previous NFS research-related work.
  • Indigenous and community connection to fishes: development of the concept of Cultural flows, involvement in Basin watering discussions.

Figure 3. Trout Cod are a success story in the recovery of Australian threatened species. (Photo: ARI.)

Further results to date. The continued poor state of native fishes means there is a clear need for the continuation of successful elements of the NFS. There is need, however, for revision to provide a contemporary context, as some major changes have occurred over the past decade. The most dramatic of these, at least publicly, has been the occurrence of repeated, large fish kills (Fig 4). This was most evident in the lower Darling River in early 2019 when millions of fish died. The media coverage and public outcry followed the South Australian Royal Commission and two ABC 4Corners investigations into water management, highlighted that all was not well in the Murray-Darling Basin. Indeed, following two inquiries, political recommendations were made to develop a Native Fish Recovery Management Strategy (NFMRS), and a business case is currently being developed. The drought, water extraction and insufficient management efforts to support native fish populations, especially within a broader sphere of a ‘new’ climate cycle of more droughts and climatic extremes, have contributed to these fish kill events. For example, one of the necessary restoration efforts intended from the Basin Plan was to provide more water for environmental purposes to improve river condition and fish populations. Recent research, however, appears to indicate that flow volumes down the Darling River have generally decreased. There is also a continuing decline of species with examples such as Yarra Pygmy Perch (Nannoperca obscura), now being extinct in MDB, and the closely related Southern Pygmy Perch (Nannoperca australis) which is still declining. Monitoring of fish populations has indicated that they remain in poor health and the need for recovery may be even greater than in 2003. We need to act now.

While some of the legacy of the NFS has continued, there has been a loss of integrated and coordinated recovery actions that were a key feature of the NFS. This loss of a Basin-wide approach has resulted in some areas (e.g. small streams and upland reaches) being neglected, with a concentration on lowland, regulated river reaches. There has also been a shift from a multi-threat, multi-solution approach to recovery, to a narrower, flow-focussed approach under the Basin Plan. In addition, there has been the installation of infrastructure (known as Sustainable Diversion Measures) to ‘save’ water which may have deleterious impacts on fish populations (e.g. the impoundment of water on floodplains by regulators or the changed operations of Menindee Lakes on the Darling River).

A clear success of the NFS was improvements in community understanding of native fishes and their engagement in restoration activities. These community voices- indigenous, conservation, anglers, etc. have been somewhat neglected in the delivery of the Basin Plan. There has been ongoing fish researcher and stakeholder engagement, but this has been largely driven by enormous goodwill and commitment from individuals involved in the collaborative networks established through the NFS. While these efforts have been supported by many funding bodies and partners such as the Murray-Darlin Basin Authority, state and Commonwealth water holders and agencies and catchment management authorities, without true cross-basin agreement and collaboration the effectiveness of these efforts will be significantly reduced.

Figure 4. Fish kills have created great public concern and are an indication of the need for improved management of native fish populations. (Photo:Graeme McRabb.)

Lessons learned and future directions.  Native fish populations in the MDB remain in a poor state and improvements will not be achieved without continued and concerted recovery efforts. Moreover, a 5-year review of the NFS indicated that while the actions undertaken to that time had been positive, they needed to be a scaling up considerably to achieve the established goals.  Recovery actions must be supported by knowledge and the lessons learnt from previous experience.  Some fish management and research activities have continued under the auspices of the Basin Plan, but these have largely focussed on the delivery of environmental water, either through water buy-backs or improved efficiency of water delivery. A key requirement is therefore transparent and accurate measurement and reporting of how much flow has been returned to the environment, and how this may have improved fish populations. This remains problematic as evidenced by the recent inquiries into fish kills in the lower Darling River (and elsewhere) and the lack of available water accounting. Fish kills are likely to continue to reoccur and the lingering dry conditions across much of the Northern Basin in 2018-19 and climate forecasts have highlighted the need for further, urgent actions through an updated NFS.

The NFS governance frameworks at the project level were excellent and while some relationships have endured informally, there is a need for an overarching strategy and coordination of efforts across jurisdictions to achieve the improved fish outcomes that are required. The absence of the formal NFS thematic taskforces (fish passage, alien fishes, community stakeholder, demonstration reaches etc) and the absence of any overarching NFS structures means that coordination and communication is lacking, with a focus only on water, limiting the previously holistic, cross jurisdiction, whole-of-Basin approach. The priority actions developed and agreed to for the NFS remain largely relevant, just need revitalized and given the dire status of native fish, scaled up significantly.

Stakeholders and funding. The continuation of quality research and increased understanding of fish ecology, however, not have kept pace with the needs of managers in the highly dynamic area of environmental watering. The transfer of knowledge to managers and the community needs to be reinvigorated. Efforts to engage recreational fishers and communities to become stakeholders in river health are improving (e.g. OzFish Unlimited: https://ozfish.org.au; Finterest website: http://www.finterest.com.au/) but with dedicated, increased support, a much greater level of engagement would be expected.  Previously, the community stakeholder taskforce and Native Fish coordinators in each state provided assistance and direction, including coordination of the annual Native Fish Awareness week. Some other key interventions such as the Basin Pest Fish Plan have not been completed and recovery of threatened fishes have received little attention (e.g. no priority fish identified in the national threatened species strategy).  Funding for fish recovery is now piecemeal, inadequate and uncoordinated, despite the growing need. The $13 B being spent on implementation of the Basin Plan should be complemented by an appropriate amount spent on other measures to ensure the recovery of MDB fishes.

Contact information. John Koehn is a Principal Research Scientist at the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, was an author the Murray-Darling Basin Native Fish Strategy and a member of various Native Fish Strategy panels and projects (Email:  John.Koehn@delwp.vic.gov.au). Mark Lintermans is an Associate Professor at Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, and was a member of various Native Fish Strategy panels and projects; (Email: Mark.Lintermans@canberra.edu.au). Craig Copeland is the CEO of OzFish Unlimited and a leading contributor to the development of the next stage of the Native Fish Strategy, the Northern Basin Complementary Measures Program and the 2017 MDB Native Fish Forum (Email: craigcopeland@ozfish.org.au).

 

Long-term restoration in the Box Gum Woodlands of south-eastern Australia – UPDATE of EMR feature

David Lindenmayer, Mason Crane, Daniel Florance, David Smith, and Clare Crane

Update to article published in EMR – Murray Catchment habitat restoration: Lessons from landscape level research and monitoring doi: 10.1111/emr.12051

Keywords: Revegetation, biodiversity recovery, monitoring, birds

Figure 1. Revegetated woodland near Wagga Wagga in the South West Slopes of New South Wales. (Photo courtesy of the Sustainable Farms project at The Australian National University. Australia).

Introduction

This project encompasses a major set of large-scale, long-term integrated studies quantifying the response of various groups of biota to replanted woodlands in the Box Gum Grassy Woodlands of south-eastern Australia. The work has been underway since 2002 and contrasts revegetated areas with regrowth woodlands and old growth woodlands on multiple farms nested within landscapes with varying amounts of native vegetation cover (Fig 1.). The responses of birds, arboreal marsupials, terrestrial mammal, reptiles, frogs and native plants to these different kinds of broad vegetation types (and within-site and landscape-level attributes) have been documented over the past 17 years.

Further works undertaken

Since the inception of the original project and associated monitoring, an array of additional studies have been completed (https://www.anu.edu.au/about/strategic-planning/sustainable-farms). These include investigations of the impacts on birds and reptiles of livestock grazing in plantings, the benefits for birds of understorey plantings within old growth woodlands, the impacts of a control program for the Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) on other woodland bird species, and interaction effects between long-term climate, short-term weather and revegetation programs on birds (Figs 2 and 3). Further work aims to quantify the biodiversity and livestock production benefits of enhancing the ecological condition (and associated water quality) of farm dams.

Figure 2. Flame Robin and Rufous Whistler – two bird species of conservation concern that respond positively to revegetated woodland. (Photos by Robin Patrick Kavanagh.)Further results to date

Research and monitoring in the past six years have resulted in a number of key new insights of considerable importance for restoration programs. A small subset of these findings includes:

  • The conservation benefits of replanted areas for bird and reptile biodiversity are undermined by intensive livestock grazing in these revegetated areas.
  • The bird biodiversity values of old growth temperate woodlands can be enhanced by underplantings of shrubs and other non-overstorey plants, although it can take many years for such benefits to manifest. Importantly, the occurrence of hyper-aggressive species such as the Noisy Miner is diminished in woodlands where underplantings have been established.
  • Experimental efforts to reduce populations of the Noisy Miner were largely unsuccessful; sites where this species was culled twice were rapidly recolonized by the Noisy Miner.
  • Replanted woodlands provide critical refugia for woodland birds, especially during prolonged drought periods.

Collectively, these findings indicate that restored woodlands have important conservation values (especially for birds but also reptiles), with restoration being valuable to conduct not only in existing old growth woodland (through establishing underplantings) but also in previously cleared sites. The conservation value of woodlands can be particularly critical during climate extremes such as droughts. Efforts to control the Noisy Miner will likely be most effective through targeted revegetation efforts rather than direct culling of birds. Finally, there is a need to limit grazing pressure in revegetated woodlands and this can require the repair or replacement of fences around replantings, especially when such key infrastructure begins to deteriorate.

Figure 3. Noisy Miner – a reverse keystone species for which experimental culling programs have proven to be ineffective. (Photo by Pete Richman.)

Lessons learned and future directions

The ongoing work has clearly demonstrated the important new insights that are derived from long-term ecological research and monitoring. Indeed, long-term changes in patterns of occupancy of restored areas could not have been quantified without rigorous monitoring of a wide range of sites of different sizes, ages and other attributes. Key manager-researcher partnerships have been fundamental to the ongoing success of the array of projects in this restoration initiative. Indeed, some research and monitoring studies were prompted by  questions posed by natural resource managers (such as if there were vegetation cover thresholds for birds in temperate woodlands). Close working relationships with farmers have also been critical to the persistence of the various projects. Field staff in the project, who are based permanently in rural Australia, are key points of outreach and communication with farmers and other natural resource managers. Their presence has accelerated the rate of knowledge transfer and adoption of new practices (such as widening shelterbelts so that they have multiple production and conservation values).

Stakeholders and funding bodies

Ongoing work has been supported by many funding bodies and partners. These include the owners of more than 250 private properties (whom have allowed access to their land and undertaken major restoration works). Funding for the work has been provided by The National Environmental Science Program (Threatened Species Recovery Hub), the Australian Research Council, Murray Local Land Services, Riverina Local Land Services, Central Tablelands Local Land Services, the Ian Potter Foundation, the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, The Australian National University, and the Calvert-Jones Foundation.

Contact information

David Lindenmayer, Sustainable Farms Project, Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, 2601, david.lindenmayer@anu.edu.au

Testate amoebae: a new indicator of the history of moisture in the swamps of eastern Australia

Key words: Temperate Highland Peat Swamps Sandstone

Introduction. Swamps are an ideal natural archive of climatic, environmental and anthropogenic change. Microbes and plants that once inhabited the swamps are transformed and accumulate in undisturbed anoxic sediments as (sub)fossils and become useful proxies of the past environment. Since these systems are intrinsically related to hydrology, the reconstruction of past moisture availability in swamps allows examination of many influences, including climate variability such as El Nino-induced drought. It can also provide baseline information: long (palaeoenvironmental) records can reveal natural variability, allow consideration of how these ecosystems have responded to past events and provide targets for their restoration after anthropogenic disturbance.

Testate amoebae are a group of unicellular protists that are ubiquitous in aquatic and moist environments. The ‘tests’ (shells) of testate amoebae preserve well and are relatively abundant in organic-rich detritus. Testate amoebae are also sensitive to, and respond quickly to, environmental changes as the reproduction rate is as short as 3-4 days. Modern calibration sets have demonstrated that the community composition of testate ameobae is strongly correlated to moisture (e.g. depth to water table and soil moisture) and this allows statistical relationships to be derived. These relationships have been used extensively in European research for the derivation of quantitative estimates of past depth to water table and hence moisture availability.

Although a suite of different proxies have used to reconstruct aspects of past moisture availability in Australia (e.g. pollen, diatoms, phytoliths) very little work on testate amoebae has occurred to date. This project aims to address this deficiency by examining testate amoebae in several ecologically important mires in eastern Australia including Temperate Highland Peat Swamps on Sandstone (THPSS), an Endangered Ecological Community listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and as a Vulnerable Ecological Community under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.

The project specifically aims to develop a transfer function linking modern samples to depth to water table in THPSS and to then apply this to reconstruct palaeohydrology over the last several thousand years. Our ultimate aims are to use this research to consider the nature and drivers of past climate change and variability and to also address issues associated with recent human impacts. The analysis of testate amoebae will allow us to consider changes in THPSS state, accumulation and stability over centuries-to-millennia, and this will provide context for recent changes, recommendations for the management of peaty swamps on sandstone and analytic tools for assessing whether remediation is resulting in significant improvement on eroding or drying swamps.

Work Undertaken and Results to Date. Research linking testate amoebae and depth to water table in Europe and North America has mostly been undertaken in ombrotrophic (rain-fed) mires. These are distinctly different to THPSS and related communities of the Sydney Basin, which are often controlled by topography (topogeneous mires). In these environments various sediments are known to build up sequentially through time and the minerogenic-rich sediments of the THPSS have resulted in several challenges in our preliminary work. As an example, standard laboratory protocols do not remove mineral particles and these can obscure and make testate amoebae identification difficult. We have since developed a new laboratory protocol and results are promising. We have also been struck by the distinct Northern Hemisphere bias to testate amoebae research: as an example, the Southern Hemisphere endemic species Apodera (Nebela) vas that has been common in our THPSS samples is not included in the most popular guideline book (https://www.qra.org.uk/media/uploads/qra2000_testate.pdf).

Despite the new laboratory protocols we have found that testate amoebae are relatively scarce in THPSS environments. Table 1 outlines the species we are encountering in modern (surface) samples of THPSS and in the high altitude Sphagnum bogs of the Australian Capital Territory: we are finding greater abundance and species richness in the bogs of the ACT.

This project commenced in 2015 and will run until 2017.

Stakeholders and Funding. This research was funded through the Temperate Highland Peat Swamps on Sandstone Research Program (THPSS Research Program). This Program was funded through an enforceable undertaking as per section 486A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 between the Minister for the Environment, Springvale Coal Pty Ltd and Centennial Angus Place Pty Ltd.  Further information on the enforceable undertaking and the terms of the THPSS Research Program can be found at www.environment.gov.au/news/2011/10/21/centennial-coal-fund-145-million-research-program.

Contact information. The project testate amoebae as indicators of peatland hydrological state’ is jointly being undertaken by: A/Prof Scott Mooney (School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Science, UNSW +61 2 9385 8063, s.mooney@unsw.edu.au), Mr Xianglin Zheng (School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Science, UNSW, +61 2 9385 8063, xianglin.zheng@unsw.edu.au) and Professor Emeritus Geoffrey Hope (Department of Archaeology and Natural History, School of Culture, History, and Language, College of Asia and Pacific, The Australian National University, +61 2 6125 0389 Geoffrey.Hope@anu.edu.au).

Table 1. A list of the testate amoebae species found in THPSS environments of the Sydney region and in the high altitude bogs of the ACT. (Those with a ++ are more common.)

Mooney table1

The palaeoenvironmental history of Temperate Highland Peat Swamps on Sandstone

Scott Mooney, James Goff and Lennard Martin

Key words (<5 words): sediments, palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, radiocarbon dating

Introduction. Palaeoecology (i.e. study of past environments using fossils and sediment cores) is often used to provide information regarding past environmental conditions. In comparison to modern ecological research, the expanded temporal perspective of palaeoecology unlocks an understanding of pre-anthropogenic variability and how ecosystems have responded to past disturbance and perturbations, thereby allowing consideration of their resilience to various environmental change.

Our Temperate Highland Peat Swamps on Sandstone Research Program (THPSSRP) research has investigated a number of sites in the Blue Mountains and on the Newnes Plateau. Our project aimed to use the sediments accumulating in these sandstone swamps to better understand the dynamics of these ecosystems over time frames that far exceed what is possible through environmental monitoring. We have been documenting the stratigraphy of the sediments using probing and sediment coring/sampling, in association with radiometric (14C, 210Pb) dating, and applying various palaeoenvironmental techniques and proxies to characterize these environments. Our ultimate aims were to characterise recent (historic) trends against the backdrop of a much longer temporal perspective from the palaeoenvironmental analyses and to examine the responses of the swamps over both long (since sediments started accumulating) and short (high-resolution) time frames to disturbance, environmental change and climatic variability.

Sydney Basin Meta-study of Accumulating Sediments. The first component of our research involved a meta-analysis of previous data regarding the ages and organic content of sediments in various depositional environments across the Sydney region. Our aim was to consider rates of sediment accumulation in the post-glacial period (the period since the last glacial maximum, about 21,000 years ago): this information informed our subsequent sampling strategies (e.g. depth of coring, resolution of analyses) and can be used in for future research to better target various chronozones. It is probable that rates of sediment accumulation reflect landscape instability/stability and together with organic content, this provides palaeoenvironmental information relevant to the overall aims of this project. For this component we collated and recalibrated radiocarbon dates (n=132) from 44 sites across the Sydney region, and we identified a subset of 12 sites with quantification of the organic content of the accumulating sediments.

Findings. The synthesis of these data revealed that sedimentation rates underwent a dramatic increase from ~0.2 mm/yr to ~0.6 mm/yr at the beginning of the Holocene (about ~11,700 years ago), which probably reflects post-glacial climatic amelioration. Sedimentation rates remained relatively high during the Holocene, between 0. 4 and 0. 5 mm/yr, although brief decreases are evident, for example centred at 8200, 6500, 2000 and 1200 calibrated radiocarbon years before present (cal. y BP). Only in the last 400 cal y BP do sedimentation rates increase above those present for the majority of the Holocene, peaking at 0.7 mm/yr.

In contrast, organic material began accumulating at around 14,400 cal y BP in these depositional environments, earlier than the 11,700 cal BP increase in sedimentation rates. Before this time all sites exhibited relatively low rates of highly minerogenic sedimentation. After ~14,400 cal y BP the organic content of the sites gradually increased in a trajectory that continued throughout the Holocene, albeit with some major excursions from this trend. As an example, organic content peaked between about 7,500 and 6,000 cal y BP, only to fall to a low at about 5,400 cal y BP, which is then followed by a rapid increase to another peak between about 4,500 and 4,000 cal y BP. This last peak in organic content achieves similar values to the surface/modern samples. This peak (6.7ka)-trough (5.4ka)-peak (4.2ka)-trough (3.2ka) sequence suggests considerable variation in the controls of organic matter production and accumulation, which are mostly climatic parameters. The palaeoenvironmental implications of these results are currently being written for submission to a scientific journal.

Field–based Sampling. Field-based sampling for this research has focused on stable depositional environments in the Sydney region:

  1. Goochs Crater in the Upper Blue Mountains. This site appears to have formed after a rock fall dammed the upper reaches of a relatively narrow valley/canyon. The site is presently a freshwater reed swamp with semi-permanent surface water, although the site has both flooded and burnt since first we first visited. After investigating the stratigraphy and depth of the accumulating sediments, three cores have been collected (G1,G2 & G3) along a transect from the edge to the centre. G1 is a 455 cm long core sampled close to the current waters edge: radiocarbon dating indicates that this represents from the present day back to about 9,500 cal y BP. This core is mostly organic-rich (>60% loss-on-ignition) but these authochthonous sediments are interspersed with abrupt (allochthonous) layers of sand and charcoal, probably transported to this location after major fire events. Our G2 core is 985 cm long and spans the period from about 4,000 to 17,500 cal y BP: it is also highly organic (20-95% loss-on-ignition) but does not include sand/charcoal layers. Core G3 extended down to highly minerogenic sediments at a depth of 795 cm and has a very similar stratigraphy to core G2.
  2. Queens Swamp near Lawson in the Blue Mountains. Queens Swamp was (re-)cored to a depth of 3.8 m and the sediment profile revealed alternating layers of sandy and peaty sediments similar to the edge core (G1) from Goochs Crater. Radiocarbon dating of the Queens Swamp cores suggests a rapidly accumulating upper section of sediments overlying a much older basal layer.
  3. Hanging Rocks Swamp located in Penrose State Forest in the Southern Highlands. A 5.6 m sediment core was also obtained Hanging Rock Swamp and these sediments returned a basal date of 14,500 cal y BP.

Field observations and preliminary results from fieldwork have been published in Quaternary Australasia and Australian Plant Conservation.

Radiocarbon Dating of Sediments. Our THPSS research has involved 35 new radiocarbon (14C) analyses so far across the three sites (Goochs, Queens, Hanging Rock) mentioned above, with a few more planned soon. Twenty of these dates resulted from two AINSE grants, which allowed accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) 14C dates. This dating was undertaken to develop robust chronologies of the sediments so that palaeoenvironmental changes could be well constrained, but we also undertook some experimentation to consider the optimum sediment fraction for future 14C dating. The sediment fractions considered were charcoal, pollen and short-lived plant macrofossils that were all isolated from the same depth in the sediment profiles. Preliminary results, in preparation for submission at the moment, suggest that charcoal has an inbuilt age of 60-500 years and plant macrofossils return an age closest to the true (modeled) age of that depth.

Preliminary Palaeoenvironmental Interpretation and Conclusions. A variety of palaeoenvironmental techniques have been applied to the sediments sampled from Goochs Crater and together they provide information about past environmental conditions. As an example, sediment humification, which provides clues to surface moisture conditions at the time of deposition, suggests that the period from 9,500 to 7,500 cal y BP was relatively dry, which contrasts with previous palaeoclimatic inferences for this region. As different photosynthetic and metabolic pathways mean that the ratio of carbon/nitrogen can distinguish between aquatic and terrestrial sources of organic matter we analysed this ratio in 32 samples across the G2 core from Goochs Crater. These results suggests that aquatic sources of organic material dominated from 17,500 to 15,000 cal y BP and between 15,000 to 10,000 cal y BP conditions favored both aquatic and terrestrial sources. A rapid departure to highly terrestrial sources was evident at 10,000 cal y BP, after which a gradual change towards contemporary conditions, with a small aquatic influence, was evident.

While this demonstrates that much of the (contemporary) accumulating sediments at Goochs Crater are derived from within the site, it also receives inorganic aeolian materials from a larger source area.  To investigate this component we quantified the grainsize along the sediment profile to reveal that although clay content remains near constant (~ 5%) for the entire period, sand-sized particles shows a distinct increase in the period between 10,000 and 7,000 cal y BP before disappearing from the record. X-ray fluorescence scanning was also conducted on the G2 core resulting in elemental profiles for 32 elements at a very high (1mm) resolution. While the geochemical investigation of peat and organic sediments is in its infancy, several elements show considerable promise as palaeoenvironmental proxies. In our record, titanium, probably resulting from freshly weathered materials and washed in during periods of high surface runoff, is variable between 17,500 and 12,000 cal y BP, followed by sustained low values throughout the Holocene except for an abrupt, brief increase at 10,000 cal y BP followed again by high levels from 9,500 to 8,500 cal y BP. Bromine, which indicates the deposition of marine aerosols, shows an opposite trend to titanium, with low values until the early Holocene when a gradual increase begins, most likely indicating increased maritime influence on the hydrology of the site as sea level rose and stabilized in the post-glacial period.

In summary, it appears that Goochs Crater began accumulating organic sediments around 17,500 cal y BP, shortly after which a small, shallow lake developed and persisted in an otherwise sparsely vegetated landscape. The establishment of shoreline vegetation by about 15,000 years ago contributed to the accumulating sediments and this seems to have occurred under a climate of strong but variable westerly winds. A gradual but increasing oceanic influence affected the site until 10,000 cal. BP. before abrupt drying occurred. Increased sand present in the record during the early Holocene and other information suggests a relatively dry period. During the rest of the Holocene, the site returned to a wet, swampy environment: we are currently re-analysing the edge core with a broader suite of proxies to better characterize the late Holocene and it is envisaged that this will result in a complete moisture-focused palaeoenvironmental record from the site from 17,500 cal. BP to present. In the rest of this project (it will run until the end of 2016) we will finalize the interpretation of the other sites and the synthesis will provide a regional picture of palaeoclimatic influences on these important ecological communities. This work will also be compared to high-resolution fire histories that are being developed across the region.

Stakeholders, Funding and Acknowledgements. This research was funded through the Temperate Highland Peat Swamps on Sandstone Research Program (THPSS Research Program). This Program was funded through an enforceable undertaking as per section 486A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 between the Minister for the Environment, Springvale Coal Pty Ltd and Centennial Angus Place Pty Ltd.  Further information on the enforceable undertaking and the terms of the THPSS Research Program can be found at www.environment.gov.au/news/2011/10/21/centennial-coal-fund-145-million-research-program. This work has benefited from discussion with Martin Krogh, Doug Benson, Sarsha Gorissen, Geoff Hope, Roger Good and Jennie Whinam.  This work has also been supported by a 2014 and 2015 AINSE Research Award (ALNGRA14019 and 15019) to SM.

Contact information. The project ‘Palaeoenvironments of sandstone peat’ is being undertaken by A/Prof Scott Mooney (School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Science (BEES) UNSW +61 2 9385 8063, s.mooney@unsw.edu.au), Professor James Goff  (School of BEES UNSW j.gof@unsw.edu.au) and Mr Len Martin (PhD candidate, School of BEES, UNSW, +61 2 9385 8063, lennard@student.unsw.edu.au).

Seagrass rehabilitation and restoration, Cockburn Sound, WA

Key words. Coastal ecosystems, transplanting trials, compensatory restoration, Posidonia

Introduction. Seagrasses are flowering plants that form extensive underwater meadows, transforming bare sandy areas into complex 3-dimensional habitats for a diverse faunal community. They provide a wide range of ecosystem services including nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, and coastal stabilization. Once impacted, seagrass meadows can take decades to recover.

The need for seagrass restoration is mainly driven by loss of seagrass due to human activities including ocean discharges and coastal developments, although changing ocean conditions (warming temperatures and increasing acidity) and sea-level rise now provide additional challenges.

 Posidonia australis, from planting unit to spreading and merging shoots.

Figure 1. Posidonia australis showing spreading and merging shoots from what were initially only single planting units (see inset).

Cockburn Sound project. In 2003, the Seagrass Research and Rehabilitation Plan (SRRP) was established to meet stringent environmental management conditions for two separate industrial development projects in Cockburn Sound, Western Australia. Both projects, Cockburn Cement Ltd and the state Department of Commerce, impacted upon seagrass ecosystems.

The SRRP was aimed at developing and implementing seagrass restoration procedures that are economically feasible and environmentally sustainable. The collaborative project team was coordinated by BMT Oceanica and included researchers from Murdoch University, The University of Western Australia, Edith Cowan University, the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, environmental consultants and a marine engineering firm.

Works and their results. Implementing the SRRP involved a range of experimental transplantings of the seagrass Posidonia australis (a slow-growing meadow-forming species).

The transplant trials resulted in good health and high survival rates of transplanted shoots. This showed that meadows can be restored and thus are likely to develop and return to the same ecological functions as natural meadows.

In this case, donor material was harvested from a site that was to be destroyed as part of the permitted development. In other cases, donor material has been harvested from meadows that have demonstrated varying levels of recovery, with a number of years required for recovery depending on the intensity of harvesting. The project resulted in site-specific solutions as well as generic technical guidelines for manual transplantation to restoration sites from donor sites.

Lessons and limitations. The main lessons for practice to date are:

  • While the results of this project are encouraging, the challenge of achieving biological diversity in seagrass meadows, particularly to the equivalence of a natural seagrass meadow, has not yet been demonstrated.
  • The scale of this particular project is still small (3.2 Ha) relative to the amount of restoration required. Focus needs to be on research into how such projects can be scaled-up. Seed-based restoration may be more appropriate for some species (including Posidonia).
  • Selection of a restoration site is a strong factor contributing to the success of transplanted material (i.e. the likelihood of success if higher where seagrass was present before).

Contact. Dr Jennifer Verduin, lecturer, Murdoch University , Tel: +61 8 93606412/0404489385; Email: j.verduin@murdoch.edu.au

Also see:

EMR project summary – report on the seagrass transplanting trials:

Full EMR feature article

 

Restoring wetland communities in the Coorong and Lower Lakes, South Australia

[Summary will be reinstated soon.]

Peniup Ecological Restoration Project

Justin Jonson

Key words: reconstruction, planning, direct seeding, monitoring, innovation

Introduction. The Peniup Restoration Project was initiated in 2007, when Greening Australia and Bush Heritage Australia jointly purchased a 2,406 hectare property as a contribution to the conservation and restoration objectives of Gondwana Link. The property has an average annual rainfall of approximately 450mm per year and had previously been farmed in a traditional broad acre sheep and cropping rotation system. The site is located within a highly diverse mosaic of varying soils and associated vegetation associations across Mallee, Mallee Shrubland, and Woodland type plant communities.

Planning and 2008 Operational Implementation. In 2008, Greening Australia’s Restoration Manager Justin Jonson developed a detailed ecological restoration plan for 950 hectares of cleared land on the northern section of the property. Information and procedures applied for that work are detailed in the EMR Journal article Ecological restoration of cleared agricultural land in Gondwana Link: lifting the bar at ‘Peniup’ (Jonson 2010). Further information is also available for the specific vegetation associations established via the Peniup Restoration Plan, with species lists according to height stratum, including seedlings planted by hand which were nitrogen fixing or from the Proteaceous genera. Funding for the initial 250 hectares of restoration were raised and the project implemented in 2008 (Fig.1).

Figure 1. Map showing the 2008 operational areas at Peniup with replanted communities replanted by direct seeding, and GPS locations of permanent monitoring plots (n=42), patches of hand planted seedlings (n=31) and seed (n=61), pre-planning soil sampling sites (n=115) and contour oriented tree belts to ensure establishment across the site (direct seeded understory consistently here).

Figure 1. The 2008 operational areas at Peniup showing communities replanted by direct seeding, and GPS locations of permanent monitoring plots (n=42), patches of hand planted seedlings (n=31) and seed (n=61), pre-planning soil sampling sites (n=115) and contour oriented tree belts to ensure establishment across the site.

Figure 2: Map showing GPS locations of permanent monitoring plots established at Peniup.

Figure 2. Location of 42 Permanent Monitoring Plots established in 2008 Peniup Ecological Restoration Project. Recruits from the direct seeding were measured 5 months after implementation, and then annually to assess persistence and long term development

Monitoring. A total of 42 monitoring plots were laid out across seven of the nine plant communities established (Fig.2). Details of the methodology, results and ongoing evaluation have been published (Jonson 2010; Hallet et al. 2014; Perring et al. 2015).

Results to date.  Monitoring indicates approximately 3.8 million plants were re-established by the direct seeding across the 250 hectare project area.  The numbers established in each plant community are shown in Fig.3 and represent the majority of plant species in each reference model. After 8 years it is clear that the project’s objectives are on track to being achieved, considering: a) absence of agricultural weeds; b) nutrient cycling through build up and decomposition of litter and other detritus;  seed-rain by short-lived nitrogen-fixing Acacia shrubs, c) diverse structural development of re-establishing species; and,  d) presence of many target animals using the site. Peniup’s progress in terms of recovery of the National Restoration Standards’s 6 ecosystem attributes is depicted and tablulated in Appendix 1.

Figure 3: Chart showing per hectare estimates of plant establishment counts by restoration plant community.

Figure 3. Per hectare estimates of Peniup plant establishment counts by restoration plant community.

Figure 4. Photo of riparian/drainage Tall Yate open woodland community with mid and understory shrubs and mid-story trees.

Figure 4. Riparian/drainage Tall Yate open woodland community at Peniup – with mid and understory shrubs and mid-story trees.

Innovation. As an adaptive management approach, small, discrete patches of seedlings of the proteaceous family were hand planted to make best use of small quantities of seed. Planting of these 5,800 seedlings in small patches, termed ‘Nodes’, provided further resource heterogeneity within relatively uniform seed mixes (by soil type). The impetus for this approach was to create concentrated food sources for nectarivorous fauna, while increasing pollination and long-term plant species viability (Jonson 2010).

Figure 5. Map showing distribution of Proteaceous Nodes.

Figure 5. Distribution of Proteaceous Nodes.

Lessons learned. Continuity of operational management is a critical component to achieving best practice ecological restoration. Project managers must be involved to some degree in all aspects of works, because flow on consequences of decisions can have high impact on outcomes. Detailed planning is also needed with large scale projects; otherwise the likelihood of capturing a large percent of site specific information is low. Finally, the use of GIS software for information management and site design is an absolute necessity.

Figure 6. Photo showing Banksia media and Hakea corymbosa plants with seed set.

Figure 6. Banksia media and Hakea corymbosa plants with seed set after 5 years.

Figure 7. hoto showing bird nest built within re-establishing Yate tree at Peniup within 5 years.

Figure 7. Bird nest within 5-year old Yate tree at Peniup.

Figure 8. Photo showing ecological processes in development including, a) absence of agricultural weeds, b) nutrient cycling and seed-rain deposition by short-lived nitrogen-fixing Acacia shrubs, c) diverse structural development of re-establishing species, and d) development of leaf litter and associated detritus for additional nutrient cycling.

Figure 8.  Five-year-old vegetation is contributing to a visible build up of organic matter and decomposition is indicating cycling of nutrients.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies. Funding for this Greening Australia restoration project was provided by The Nature Conservancy, a carbon offset investment by Mirrabella light bulb company, and other government and private contributions.

Contact information. Justin Jonson, Managing Director, Threshold Environmental, PO Box 1124, Albany WA 6330 Australia, Tel:  +61 427 190 465; jjonson@thresholdenvironmental.com.au

See also EMR summary Monjebup

See also EMR feature article Penium project

Watch video: Justin Jonson 2014 AABR presentation on Peniup

Appendix 1. Self-evaluation of recovery level at Peniup in 2016, using templates from the 5-star system (National Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration in Australia)

Fig 9. Peniup recovery wheel template

Evaluation table2