Category Archives: Planning, monitoring & assessment

Defining reference communities for ecological restoration of Monjebup North Reserve in Gondwana Link

Justin Jonson

Key words: reconstruction; reference ecosystem; planning; ecosystem assemblage; monitoring

Introduction. Bush Heritage Australia’s (BHA) Monjebup North Reserve is a property that directly contributes to the conservation, restoration and connectivity objectives of Gondwana Link – one of Australia’s leading landscape scale restoration initiatives. Building on a solid history of revegetation projects implemented by collaborators from Greening Australia and individual practioners, the BHA management team initiated and funded a $40K Ecological Restoration Planning Project for 400 hectares of marginal farmland in need of restoration.

The specific aim of the Monjebup North Ecological Restoration Project was to 1) plan and 2) implement a ‘five star’ ecological restoration project as defined by the Gondwana Link Restoration Standards. Overarching goals included the re-establishment of vegetation assemblages consistent with the surrounding mosaic of plant communities, with a specific focus on local fauna and the restoration of habitat conditions to support their populations.

Figure 1: Map showing GPS locations of soil auger sampling locations.

Figure 1: Map showing GPS locations of soil auger sampling locations.

Planning and identification of reference communities for restoration of cleared land. The Monjebup North Ecological Restoration Project began with a third party consultancy contract to develop the Monjebup North Ecological Restoration Plan. This work began with the collection of detailed field data, including 120 soil survey pits collected to define the extent and boundaries between different soil-landform units occurring on the site (Fig.1). In the absence of previously defined and/or published information on local plant communities, an additional vegetation survey and report, The Vegetation of Monjebup North, was developed, which included 36 vegetation survey sites widely distributed across the surrounding vegetation (Fig.2). A total of 10 primary vegetation associations were defined within remnant vegetation on and around the site from this work (Fig.3). Additional soil survey pits were established within these defined plant communities to develop relationships between observed vegetation associations and soil-landform units. Cross referencing this information to the 400 hectare area of cleared land resulted in the delineation of seven core reference communities to guide the restoration project. These restoration communities ranged from Banksia media and Eucalyptus pluricaulis Mallee Scrub associations on spongelitic clay soils, to Eucalyptus occidentalis (Yate) Swamp Woodland associations located in low-lying areas where perched ephemeral swamps exist.

Figure 2: Map showing GPS locations of flora survey sampling sites.

Figure 2: Map showing GPS locations of flora survey sampling sites.

Figure 3: Output map of dominant vegetation associations at Monjebup North Reserve.

Figure 3: Output map of dominant vegetation associations at Monjebup North Reserve.

Figure 4: Mosaic of plant communities replanted at Monjebup North in 2012 using direct seeding and hand planted seedlings. A tractor fitted with GPS unit enables real time seeding passes, as shown on the map.

Figure 4: Mosaic of plant communities replanted at Monjebup North in 2012 using direct seeding and hand planted seedlings. A tractor fitted with GPS unit enables real time seeding passes, as shown on the map.

Figure 5: Mosaic of plant communities replanted at Monjebup North in 2013 using direct seeding and hand planted seedlings. A tractor fitted with GPS unit enables real time seeding passes, as shown on the map.

Figure 5: Mosaic of plant communities replanted at Monjebup North in 2013 using direct seeding and hand planted seedlings. A tractor fitted with GPS unit enables real time seeding passes, as shown on the map.

Seed sourcing. Seed from approximately 119 species were collected on and around the site for the restoration works. Seed collections for some species were collected from a number of geographically separate sub-populations, however these were never located further than 10 kilometers from site. Collections were made from at least 20 individuals for each species, and preference was made in collecting from populations which had 200+ individuals.

The primary on-ground works were initiated across four years from 2012 to 2015, starting with a 100 ha project area in 2012 (Fig.4), and a 140 ha area in the following year (Fig.5), both by Threshold Environmental Pty Ltd. A combination of direct seeding and hand planted seedlings treatments were employed, where seed mixes were developed to achieve the bulk of plant recruitment across each of the soil-land form units, and nursery grown seedlings were planted by hand for species found to be difficult to establish from direct seeding or for which stocking densities were to be more closely controlled. This work involved 13 communities and 148 species.

A number of innovative operational treatments were employed. These included grading 5 kilometers of contour banks and spreading chipped vegetation and seed pods, and 180 in situ burning patches where branch and seed material from fire-responsive serotinous species were piled and burned (Fig.6 before, Fig.7 after). Seedlings for rare, high nectar producing plant species were also planted in 203 discrete ‘node’ configurations. Habitat debris piles made of on-site stone and large branch materials were also constructed at 16 locations across the 2012 project areas.

Fig.6 In situ burning of serotinous branch and seed material

Figure 7: Photo of Dryandra nervosa juvenile plants establishing from one of the in situ burn pile locations. Other species used for this technique included Dryandra cirsioides, Dryandra drummondii, Hakea pandanicarpa, Isopogon buxifolius, and Hakea corymbosa.

Figure 7: Photo of Dryandra nervosa juvenile plants establishing from one of the in situ burn pile locations. Other species used for this technique included Dryandra cirsioides, Dryandra drummondii, Hakea pandanicarpa, Isopogon buxifolius, and Hakea corymbosa.

Monitoring. Monitoring plots were established to evaluate the direct seeded revegetation, as presented in the Project Planting and Monitoring Report 2012-2013. Fauna monitoring has also been undertaken by BHA using pit fall traps, LFA soil records, and bird minute surveys.

Results to date. Monitoring collected from post establishment plots in from the 2012 and 2013 areas (2 years after seeding) showed initial establishment of 2.4 million trees and shrubs from the direct seeding (Fig.8 and Fig.9). Results of faunal monitoring are yet to be reported, but monitoring at the site for vegetation and faunal is ongoing.

Figure 8: Graphic representation of monitoring results from 2012 and 2013 operational programs showing scaled up plant counts across the plant community systems targeted for reconstruction.

Figure 8: Graphic representation of monitoring results from 2012 and 2013 operational programs showing scaled up plant counts across the plant community systems targeted for reconstruction.

Figure 9: Photo showing 3 year old establishment and growth of a Banksia media/Eucalyptus falcata Mallee shrub plant community with granitic soil influence from the 2012 Monjebup North restoration project.

Figure 9: Photo showing 3 year old establishment and growth of a Banksia media/Eucalyptus falcata Mallee shrub plant community with granitic soil influence from the 2012 Monjebup North restoration project.

Lessons learned and future directions. The decision to develop a restoration plan in advance of undertaking any on-ground works was a key component contributing to the success of the project to date. Sufficient lead time for contracted restoration practioners to prepare (>12 months) was also a key contributor to the success of the delivery. Direct collaboration with seed collectors with extensive local knowledge also greatly benefited project inputs and outcomes.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies. Major funding for the project was provided by Southcoast Natural Resource Management Inc., via the Federal Government’s National Landcare Program and the Biodiversity Fund. Of note is also Bush Heritage Australia’s significant investment in the initial purchase of the property, without which the project would not have been possible.

Contact information. Justin Jonson, Managing Director, Threshold Environmental, PO BOX 1124, ALBANY WA 6330 +61 427 190 465; jjonson@thresholdenvironmental.com.au

See also EMR summary Peniup

 Watch video: Justin Jonson 2014 AABR presentation

Subtropical rainforest restoration at the Rous Water Rainforest Reserve, Rocky Creek Dam, 1983 – 2016

Key words: Lowland subtropical rainforest, ecosystem reconstruction, drinking water catchment, continual improvement process.

Introduction. Rous Water is actively engaged in ecosystem reconstruction within the drinking water catchment areas it manages on behalf of the community. The aim of these activities is to improve the functioning of essential natural processes that sustain water quality. The methodology used for rainforest restoration by Rous Water has evolved over time through an ‘adaptive management’ process at Rocky Creek Dam. This adaptive management approach has demonstrated that effective large scale sub-tropical regeneration at Rocky Creek Dam is achieved through complete removal of competing plants. The technique has become known as the Woodford Method and is now being applied at other Rous Water restoration sites.

The Rous Water Rainforest Reserve at Rocky Creek Dam is set in the northern headwaters of the Richmond River catchment, on the southern rim of the Tweed shield volcano. Basalt flows from the volcano have produced nutrient rich Red Ferrosol that supported diverse sub-tropical rainforest ecosystems across the region, until the rainforest was largely cleared for agriculture in the late 19th century. The Rocky Creek Dam site is adjacent to the Big Scrub Flora Reserve, the largest remaining remnant subtropical rainforest in the region. This reserve acts as a reference site for the restoration project (Fig 1).

Figure 1. Detail of the regeneration areas at Rocky Creek Dam, showing the areas treated and the year of the initial works

Figure 1. Detail of the regeneration areas at Rocky Creek Dam, showing the areas treated and the year of the initial works

Clearing of land in the vicinity of Rocky Creek Dam by early settlers commenced in the 1890s, with the cleared lands used for the establishment of dairy farms and a sawmill. In 1949, following acquisition of the site by Rous County Council (now Rous Water) for the construction of a water supply dam, this former farmland had reverted to weedy regrowth characterised by a mosaic of native/exotic grass, Lantana (Lantana camara) and Camphor Laurel (Cinnamomum camphora) which supressed any expansion or recovery of scattered rainforest remnants. Transformation of the site commenced in 1983 when Rous Water became actively engaged in ecosystem recovery by systematically removing weeds that suppressed rainforest regeneration, a practice that continues today.

Rainforest restoration methods. The practices and management tools used in rainforest restoration at the site have been previously described by Woodford (2000) and Sanger et al. (2008). The work method typically involves the systematic poisoning and slashing of weeds to promote recruitment of rainforest plants from the soil seed bank and then to facilitate the growth of suppressed rainforest plants, providing a structural framework for further seed dispersal by wind and, particularly, flying frugivores and thus further colonisation by later phase rainforest trees.

Since 1983, an area of approximately 70 ha has been progressively treated in 1-2 ha blocks using this methodology (refer Fig 1), with progressively diminishing amounts of follow-up treatment needing to be conducted in the treated areas over subsequent years to secure successional progression of the rainforest species.

Use of this method means that, due to recruitment from the seed bank and the use of stags (from dead camphor laurel) as perches for seed dispersing birds, very limited planting has been required on the site. This has preserved the genetic integrity of the Big Scrub in this location.

Results. A total of approximately 70 hectares of weed dominated regrowth has been treated at the Rous Water Rainforest Reserve since commencement in 1983 (Figure 1). This is approximately 35 ha since the report previously published in 2000 and represents approximately 30 % of the Rous Water property at Rocky Creek Dam.

This progressive treatment of compartments of weedy regrowth at Rocky Creek Dam has continued to lead to rapid canopy closure by shorter lived pioneer and early secondary tree species, with a gradual progression to higher proportions of later secondary and primary species with increasing time since treatment. All tree species that are listed as occurring in the reference site are not only now present in the restoration area, but informal observations suggest that most, if not all, are increasing in abundance over time (Figs 2-6)

Figure 2. Treated regrowth at the Rous Water Rainforest Reserve, Rocky Creek Dam After 1 year (foreground)

Figure 2. Typical regeneration of rainforest species 1 year after Lantana removal at the Rous Water Rainforest Reserve, Rocky Creek Dam (foreground).

Figure 3. Same photopoint after 6 years

Figure 3. Typical recovery after 6 years

Figure 4. Same photopoint after 12 years

Figure 4. Typical recovery after 12 years

Figure 5. Same scenario after 20 years

Figure 5. typical recovery after 20 years

Figure 6. After 30 years

Figure 6. Typical recovery after 30 years

The structure of the older treated regrowth areas sites appears to be converging on rainforest conditions, as noted by Kanowski & Catterall (2007). Thackway & Specht (2015) depict how 25 ha of systematically treated compartments that were covered almost entirely with lantana are progressing back towards the original Lowland Subtropical Rainforest’s composition, structure and ecological function (Fig 7). Overall the vegetation status in this area was assessed at between 85% and 90% of its pre-clearing status.

This process is, at its oldest 33 years old and in some locations much younger. So it is clear that the development of the subtropical vegetation still has many decades, possibly centuries, to go, before it approaches the composition, structural and habitat characteristics of a primary forest. Notwithstanding the large areas of natural regrowth that are yet to be worked, it is evident that a large proportion of the assisted regeneration areas progressively worked by Rous over the past 33 years now requires only a low level of ongoing maintenance. This shows that these sites are maturing over time and have largely reached a self-organising state, and in the fullness of time will achieve a high degree of similarity to the reference state.  (A recovery wheel for one subsite is shown in Fig 8)

Fig 7, Thackway fig rocky creek dam1

Figure 7. Assessment of change in indicators of vegetation condition in a 25 ha area. This depicts the degree of recoveery of Lowland Subtropical Rainforest found at Rocky Creek Dam, Big Scrub, NSW against a pre-clearing reference. (Graph reproduced with permission. The method used to generate the graph is described in Thackway, R. and Specht, A., (2015). Synthesising the effects of land use on natural and managed landscapes. Science of the Total Environment. 526:136–152 doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.04.070. ) Condition indices for transition Phase 4 were derived from prior reports including Sanger et al. 2008 and Woodford 2000. Metadata can be viewed at http://portal.tern.org.au/big-scrub-rocky-queensland-brisbane/16908 .

Lessons learned. Using this method of harnessing the natural resilience processes of the rainforest, we have been able to progress the recovery of an important water catchment area, restoring very high biodiversity conservation values in a landscape where rainforest was, and remains, in serious decline., The ability of the high resilience sites at Rocky Creek Dam to respond to the Woodford Method is clearly demonstrated, but there is ample evidence that application of this and similar resilience-based rainforest restoration methods can harnessed resilience at other sites in the Big Scrub that are at greater distances from remnants.

Figure 8. Distribution of management intensity classes across the Rous Water Rainforest Reserve at Rocky Creek Dam.

Figure 8. Distribution of management intensity classes across the Rous Water Rainforest Reserve at Rocky Creek Dam. (Legend for this map is in Appendix 1)

Current work and future directions. Work continues at the site and management is supportive of-site evaluation to assess the extent to which the treated areas are undergoing successional development using a range of available assessment tools.

To assist future planning, and in order to address the issue of how to best estimate and plan for restoration works and associated costs, Rous Water has adapted the methodology developed on the Tweed-Byron Bush Futures Project, where each restoration site/area was assigned a Management Intensity Class (MIC) based on a generalised assessment of site condition, weed composition and cover and other management requirements. (Fig 8) The MIC describes the frequency of restoration work required to restore the site to a minimal maintenance level and how many years this would take to achieve. The MIC aims to describe the extent of management intervention necessary to restore the site to a minimal maintenance level. For this analysis this equates to the establishment of a self sustaining sub-tropical rainforest buffer zone. Each management intensity class is associated with a particular restoration trajectory/cost per hectare, based on visitation frequency by a standard 3 person team and expressed in terms of number of visits required to control / manage weeds. Appendix 1 below shows details of the MIC classification, showing for each class, relevant site criteria, and the estimated level of bush regeneration resources required to bring each class to a low maintenance level.

Contact: Anthony Acret, Catchment Assets Manager,  Rous Water. Tel: +61 (0) 2 6623 3800, Email: anthony.acret@rouswater.nsw.gov.au

Rocky Creek Dam recovery wheel adjacent to Forest Edge

Appendix 1. Legend for Management intensity classes used in Fig 8. (From Tweed-Byron Bush Futures)

Appendix 1. Legend for Management intensity classes used in Fig 8.

Case Study: Restoring the Lost Shellfish Reefs of Port Phillip Bay

Simon Branigan

Key words: shellfish reefs, native flat oyster, blue mussel, ecological restoration, marine ecosystem

Background. Globally, shellfish reefs are the most threatened marine habitat on earth.  Research published by The Nature Conservancy documented that that over 85% of shellfish reefs have been lost from coastal areas worldwide, with 99% of shellfish reefs ‘functionally extinct’ in Australian coastal waters, including within Port Phillip Bay (Shellfish Reefs at Risk Report).

This dramatic loss of shellfish reef habitat in Port Phillip Bay had occurred by the mid to late 20th century, caused by over-harvesting through destructive dredge fishing, further compounded by pollution, predation and disease in later years.

In an Australian first, The Nature Conservancy Australia (TNC) are part of a research partnership that are trialling different approaches to restoring Port Phillip Bay’s lost shellfish reefs (video link).

Shellfish reefs are intertidal or subtidal three-dimensional habitats formed by oysters and/or mussels at high densities. Shellfish reefs can vary in appearance depending on the dominant reef-forming species. There are many common attributes of shellfish reefs including:

  • They provide habitat and refuge for other species including sessile and mobile organisms, supporting high levels of species diversity and unique assemblages;
  • They can accrete dead shell material such that the reef grows in size and mass over time;
  • They provide food for other organisms, either when consumed directly or through the species assemblages they support.
Figure 1. Clumping native Flat Oysters at 9ft Bank in Port Phillip Bay

Figure 1. Clumping native Flat Oysters at 9ft Bank in Port Phillip Bay

Figure 2. Remnant Oyster Reef in Georges Bay, St Helens, Tasmania. (Photo: Chris Gillies)

Figure 2. Remnant Oyster Reef in Georges Bay, St Helens, Tasmania. (Photo: Chris Gillies)

Restoring the Lost Shellfish Reefs of Port Phillip Bay. A three-year trial was established in late March 2015 to investigate the following research questions:

  • Can the oysters simply grow on the bottom or do they need a rubble base?
  • Can oysters be deployed at a young age and survive, or is it more beneficial for a grow-out on aquaculture leases to gain a ‘headstart’?
  • At what densities do we need to deploy mature mussels? (i.e. Can they create mussel beds naturally on the sediment or require substrate?)

 Reference ecosystem. Historical information and relictual evidence shows that the shellfish reefs of Port Phillip Bay were subtidal with the dominant species being native flat oyster (Ostrea angasi) and Blue Mussel (Mytilus (edulis) galloprovincialis). Healthy reference sites for such reefs are very limited in Southern Australia. Within Port Phillip Bay the only site found so far is a dispersed clumping reef called 9ft Bank (Fig 1). A remnant shellfish reef also occurs in Georges Bay, off St Helens in Tasmania (Fig 2). Further research is planned for the Tasmanian site to complete a biological assessment to inform long-term restoration targets and reef design at Port Phillip Bay and other future sites in the region.

Locations of the restoration trials: The intent is to conduct restoration trials in three locations within Port Phillip Bay, although currently works are occurring at only two sites: Wilson Spit (Outer Geelong Harbour) and Margarets Reef (Hobsons Bay) (Fig 3). These are both old shellfish reefs that are largely dead and covered by sediment (Fig 4). The depth range is between 6 to 8 metres depth with Wilson Spit being a silty mud bottom and Margarets Reef sand.

Figure 3. Port Phillip Bay Shellfish Reef Restoration sites.

Figure 3. Port Phillip Bay Shellfish Reef Restoration sites.

Figure 4. Relictual evidence of previous oyster reef at Wilson Spit restoration site. (Photo: Paul Hamer).

Figure 4. Relictual evidence of previous oyster reef at Wilson Spit restoration site. (Photo: Paul Hamer).

Works Undertaken. As Port Phillip Bay is both reef substrate- and recruitment-limited a reconstruction approach (involving rebuilding substrates and reintroducing oysters and mussels) is a necessary starting point for the restoration, with the longer term expectation of natural colonisation.

The trial has involved the deployment of a total of 6 tonnes of limestone marl substrate in a patchwork of 1m x 1m plots at both sites. Native flat oysters are being raised at the Victorian Shellfish Hatchery and their larvae settled on recycled scallop shells (called cultch) (Fig 5). The larvae are then left for a 3-6 month period on an aquaculture lease before being deployed onto the substrate base (Fig 6). To date over 20,000 live oysters have been deployed to seed the reefs. In addition, over 6 tonnes of blue mussel have also been deployed at different densities and in 3 x 3m plots (Fig 7).

Figure 5. Cultch spat growing out at the Bates Point Aquaculture Lease. (Photo: Ben Cleveland)

Figure 5. Cultch spat growing out at the Bates Point Aquaculture Lease. (Photo: Ben Cleveland)

Figure 6. Limestone rubble base with cultch spat. (Photo: Paul Hamer)

Figure 6. Limestone rubble base with cultch spat. (Photo: Paul Hamer)

Figure 7. Deployed mussel bed at Margarets Reef. (Photo: Paul Hamer)

Figure 7. Deployed mussel bed at Margarets Reef. (Photo: Paul Hamer)

 Monitoring Methodology. The University of Melbourne are contracted to lead the monitoring in Stage 1 of the restoration trial. Baseline sampling was conducted of the trial pre-deployment (trial layout is shown in Fig 8) and subsequent monitoring to be carried out 6 months and 12 months after deployment. Monitoring includes measuring:

  • Oyster survival per shell on the various substrate treatments
  • Oyster growth on the various substrate treatments
  • Mussel survival (inner cores only) and mussel growth as well as shell cover and predator density
  • Baseline community sampling (pre-deployment) of mobile fish, cryptic fish, mobile invertebrates, benthic biota and benthic substrate.
Figure 8. An example of the oyster reef experimental design at the Margaret Reef site.

Figure 8. An example of the oyster reef experimental design at the Margaret Reef site.

Lessons Learned and Future Directions. Early monitoring results from both sites show that oyster spat survival is greater if deployed on a rubble base than directly to the seabed, with cultch loss high on sand, due to burial. Oysters grew on average five times as fast on rubble than sand over winter. We conclude from this that elevation is important for both the survival and growth of oysters.

For the mussels the highest density treatment had the highest mortality at both sites, suggesting that the low density treatment improves survival and may be the most cost effective approach.

The most abundant predator was the native Eleven-arm Seastar (Coscinasterias calamaria).

We consider that scale is important in helping to minimise early losses and this hypothesis will be tested in the second stage of the trail. Planning is in place to scale-up the trial to 20 x 20m plots in late 2016, with a mixed-species approach, combining mussels and oysters rather than having separate treatments. Elevation through large and small limestone rubble will also be tested, integrated with recycled shells sourced from restaurants and wholesalers.

Stakeholders and Funding. The Restoring the Lost Shellfish Reefs of Port Phillip Bay Project is a key element of The Nature Conservancy Australia’s Great Southern Seascapes Program and delivered in partnership with the Victorian Government (Fisheries Victoria) and Albert Park Yachting and Angling Club. All partners have contributed funding towards the project and continue to fundraise.

Contact. Simon Branigan, Estuaries Conservation Coordinator, The Nature Conservancy Australia, Suite 2.01, The 60L Green Building, 60 Leicester Street, Carlton, VIC 3053, Australia. Tel: 0409087278. Email: simon.branigan@tnc.org

WATCH FIRST VIDEO: Shellfish reef restoration in Port Phillip Bay

WATCH SECOND VIDEO: Trialling shellfish reef restoration techiques for potential application across Australia

Recovering biodiversity at Trust for Nature’s Neds Corner Station, Victoria

Doug Robinson, Deanna Marshall, Peter Barnes and Colleen Barnes

Key words. Private conservation area, natural regeneration, ecological restoration, rabbit control.

Introduction. Neds Corner Station is Victoria’s largest private conservation property. This 30,000 hectare ex-sheep and cattle station was purchased for nature conservation by Trust for Nature (Victoria) in 2002.

The property occupies the driest area of the state with an average annual rainfall of only 250 mm. As such, it has strong ecological links to the arid regions of Australia and Australia’s rangelands. Neds Corner sits strategically at the hub of an extensive network of public and private conservation lands bordering or close to the Murray River in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. The reserve is bordered on three sides by the Murray Sunset National Park and borders frontages along the Murray River and associated anabranches for more than thirty kilometres, where the River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) dominated riparian zone connects with Chenopod Shrublands, Semi-arid Chenopod Woodlands and Chenopod Mallee Woodlands. Trust for Nature’s restoration efforts are targeted at restoring woodland connectivity across the property to improve habitat extent and condition for woodland and mallee plants and animals, including the nationally threatened Regent Parrot (Polytelis anthopeplus). A biodiversity survey in 2011 found 884 native species at Neds Corner Station, including 6 threatened birds and animals, 77 threatened plants, and 21 species new to science. Trust for Nature continues to find new records for the property.

Fig 1 Neds 2003

Fig. 1. Highly degraded area (near watering points) in 2003 just after Trust purchased the property.

 

Fig 2 Neds 2011

Fig. 2. Same photopoint in 2014 showing extensive natural regeneration of Low Chenopod Shrubland after removal of livestock and extensive treatment of rabbits.

 

Planning for recovery. In 2002, when Trust for Nature first took on the property, the land was severely degraded from continuous over grazing by stock, rabbits and native herbivores; weed infestations; historic clearing of extensive areas of woodland for firewood and forage; and lack of flooding. Native vegetation was sparse over much of the property, soil erosion was extensive and the floodplain and semi-arid woodlands were all showing signs of extreme stress.

In the early years of ownership, management focussed on addressing the most obvious of these threats, with a focus on rabbit control and weed control. In 2010, with funding support from The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Nature prepared a Conservation Action Plan for the reserve, using the Open Standards for Conservation process, and a subsequent management plan. These planning documents identified the key biodiversity values on the reserve, the major threats to these values and the strategies to reduce threats and improve condition to achieve agreed ecological goals.Fig 6 Neds

Fig. 3. Dune Wattle (Acacia ligulata) natural regeneration after cropping was discontinued.

Fig 7 Neds

 Fig 4. Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa) natural regeneration after cropping ceased.

Works undertaken. Trust for Nature’s first action was to remove the livestock to allow the regeneration and growth of native vegetation. Stock fencing was decommissioned to enable free movement of native fauna, and new exclosure fencing to protect sites of cultural and ecological significance were also constructed. Major efforts were made to reduce rabbit numbers through the use of warren ripping, fumigation and 1080 baiting across the property. To date, over 20,000 warrens have been treated. Direct seeding and tubestock planting in the Semi-arid Woodland areas of the property have been continuous, with the cessation of a cropping licence, over 500 ha direct seeded in one year as part of an Australian Government funded project. In partnership with the Mallee Catchment Management Authority, environmental water allocations have been used to inundate areas of Neds Corner, providing a vital lifeline to many of the plants and animals that inhabit the riverine billabongs and floodplain forests. Artificial water points and superfluous tracks have been closed. Targeted fox and other feral animal programs are continuous.

Fig 3 Neds 2003

Fig 5. Highly degraded ‘Pine paddock’ in 2003 just after the Trust purchased the property.

Fig 4 Neds 2011

Fig 6. Pine paddock from same photopoint in n2014 after exclosure fencing, rabbit control and extensive direct seeding of trees and shrubs in 2007 (and again in 2010). The grasses all naturally regenerated.

Results. In the 14 years since domestic stock removal and the ongoing control of rabbits and weeds, there has been a dramatic increase in the cover of native vegetation, notably from natural regeneration (Figs 1-4) but also from extensive supplementary planting and direct seeding (Figs 5-8). In 2011, wide spread natural germination of Murray Pines occurred across the woodland sections of the property and Sandhill Wattle (Acacia ligulata) seedlings were observed on one rise where no parent plant was known to occur, indicating a viable seed bank may exist. The vulnerable Darling Lilies (Crinum flaccidum) continue to extend their range, given favourable weather conditions and the continuous control of herbaceous threats to the extent required to ensure adequate recruitment of these key flora species. Bird surveys undertaken for one of the targeted projects within Neds Corner over the past 10 years show an encouraging increase in reporting rates of Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus victoriae) (>x2 increase), Chestnut-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus ruficeps) (>x2% increase) and Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii) (>x20 increase).

Fig 5 neds

Fig.7. Revegetation plantings in 2008

Fig 6 NEds 2014

Fig 8. Same revegetation planing line in 2013.

Current and future directions. Trust for Nature are due to revise their CAP and have identified the need to undertake recovery actions at a greater scale. They are currently investigating the feasibility of re-introducing some fauna species back into Neds Corner Station that haven’t been found in the region for decades, provided there is sufficient habitat to sustain them.

Acknowledgements. As a not-for-profit organisation, Trust for Nature (Victoria) relies on the generous support of many individuals, organisations and government entities. The main project partners to date include The Nature Conservancy, RE Ross Trust, Yulgilbar Foundation, Australian Government, Mallee Catchment Management Authority, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning, Mildura Rural City Council, Northern Mallee Region Landcare, Traditional Owners and the thousands of hours volunteers contribute to Neds Corner Station.

Contact: Doug Robinson, Conservation Science Coordinator, Trust for Nature: (Tel: +61 1800 99 99 33.) Email: dougr@tfn.org.au; www.trustfornature.org.au

Photos: Trust for Nature

 

 

 

Restoration at Numinbah Conservation Area, City of the Gold Coast, Queensland

Key Words: assisted regeneration, restoration planning, conservation

Introduction: Numinbah Conservation Area, located in the hinterland of the Gold Coast in south-east Queensland, is one of many natural areas managed by City of Gold Coast’s Natural Areas Management Unit (NAMU). The 598 ha property contains 12 Regional Ecosystems (REs) ranging from sub-tropical and dry rainforest to dry and wet sclerophyll types; and include riparian zones, steep areas, gullies and rocky outcrops. Its conservation value is heightened by the fact that it connects to other reserves including the World Heritage areas of Springbrook.

Condition ranges from large degraded areas (i.e. pasture) to native vegetation that contains both regrowth and remnant areas. All areas were impacted by weeds due to previous disturbance from logging and subsequent cattle grazing. More than 35 weed species impact the site at varying levels with the most notable species across the site being Lantana (Lantana camara). Edges are impacted by exotic vines such as Glycine (Neonotonia wightii), the understorey by many herbaceous weeds such as Mistflower (Ageratina riparia) and rainforest zones by persistent weeds such as Coral Berry (Rivina humilis) and Passion Vines (Passiflora spp.) to name a few. Approximately 60 hectares of open area are dominated by pasture grasses and other weeds.

The aim of the project is to restore, to the extent possible, the structure, function, dynamics and integrity of the pre-existing vegetation and the sustaining habitat that is provided. Our goals are to:

  • Improve the health of vegetation and habitat types across the site
  • Improve connectivity for flora and fauna
  • Reduce fuel levels in fire prone ecosystems and the risk of hot fires sweeping through the site and wider landscape
  • Increase the resilience of the site
  • Improve water quality
  • Increase the health, populations and distribution of threatened species – flora and fauna
  • Reduce the need for weed control maintenance over time i.e. to a level of minimal maintenance
  • Provide nature based recreational opportunities and environmental education along this section of the Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk

Planning. An ecological restoration plan was developed after detailed site assessments and the site was divided into precincts, zones and sub-zones to assist directing works. Information in the plan included species lists, weed control information, maps and detail on how to restore each area and progressively link zones. A detailed fire management plan was also developed for the site that took into account wildfire mitigation, restoration zones, the location of threatened species, site objectives, REs including their recommended fire regimes, and the capacity of areas to regenerate.

Works to date. Works over the last 9 years have covered more than 190 ha. The main approach to restoration has been via assisted regeneration consisting mainly of large scale weed control and the fencing of areas to reduce the impact of cattle. Further works have involved planting a section of creek to assist stability and connectivity across a section of the site; and the propagation and translocation of four threatened flora species (details not disclosed for security reasons).

Where low intensity fuel reduction burns were conducted in dry sclerophyll vegetation, timely follow up weed control was applied to ensure re-shooting Lantana, Molasses Grass (Melinis minutiflora) and other weeds did not fill gaps and to support the colonisation and growth of native vegetation. In remnant and regrowth vegetation, systematic weed control using a range of techniques has been applied. E.g. large areas of Lantana were controlled using three techniques: cut, scrape and paint where it was in close proximity to native plants; over-spraying after isolating infestations; and, spot-spraying when it germinated or was re-shooting. Weed species were continually suppressed to ensure native species germinated and grew to a point where most gaps have been filled with native vegetation. As each area developed and maintenance reduced, efforts were put into continually expanding the work fronts.

A propagation and translocation project was also implemented in partnership with Seqwater. More than 1150 individuals (four species) have been propagated, planted into their particular niche and have been monitored and reported on annually. This will continue until all species are considered to be self-sustaining i.e. flowering, fruiting and reproducing.

(a)NCA8n_20080502

(b)NCA8n_20080827

(c) NCA8n_20090716

(d)NCA8n_20100625

(e)NCA8n_20110630

(f)NCA8n_20151130

Figure 1, (a-f) represents an annual sequence of recovery after control of Lantana and subsequent weed at one photopoint from 2008 to 2011, with the last photo taken in 2015. The results reflect accurate and timely weed control to support the recovery of native vegetation. (Photos: City of Gold Coast)

Results to date. As of July 2015, weeds have been significantly reduced across the 190 ha treated area to a point where maintenance is being applied, with some areas requiring little to no maintenance. In a number of areas this reduction of weed has also significantly reduced fuel levels.

Increased abundance and diversity of native vegetation has occurred across a range of ecosystem and habitat types within the reserve. Open areas once dominated by dense Lantana have taken approx. 3 years to naturally regenerate with a range of pioneer, early secondary and later stage rainforest species (Figs 1-3). Many of those areas now include continuing recovery of later stage species and contain a large diversity of seedlings, groundcovers and ferns. More diverse communities have recovered with a large range of species (depending on the ecosystem / ecotone) and support a diversity of fauna species. Works in four of the larger precincts have now joined up and weed control works are continuing to expand all regenerating areas.

More than 7000 plants installed along the open riparian stretch are establishing with native species regenerating amongst the planting. After approx. 7 years the average height of the planted canopy is approx. 5-7m tall.

Ongoing works: All current work zones are being continuously extended ensuring progress made is maintained. The open area (e.g. paddock) is being reduced over time as vegetation is encouraged to expand (i.e. by continuing to control weeds to past the drip lines of all native vegetation). Fences that currently contain cattle (i.e. to assist managing open areas for access, fire management and to ensure funds are spent in more resilient areas) are being moved to continue to reduce the size of highly degraded areas. Fire management, large scale weed control and the monitoring and evaluation of threatened species, together with fauna surveys, is continuing.

Stakeholders and funding bodies: Natural Areas Management Unit (NAMU), City of Gold Coast and Seqwater. Contact Information Paul Cockbain, Team Leader Restorations +61 7 5581 1510

 

Post-sand extraction restoration of Banksia woodlands, Swan Coastal Plain, Western Australia.

Deanna Rokich

Key words: research-practice partnership, adaptive management, smoke technology, cryptic soil impedance, topsoil handling.

Figure 1. Examples of undisturbed Banksia woodland reference sites.

Introduction. Banksia woodlands were once a common and widespread feature of the Swan Coastal Plain, Western Australia (Fig. 1); today less than 35% of the original Banksia woodlands remain in metropolitan Perth. When sand extraction activities were permitted over 25 years ago, Hanson Construction Materials opted to go well beyond the statutory minimum requirement of re-instating local native species. Instead, Hanson committed to meet the challenge to return post-sand extracted sites (Fig. 2) to an ecosystem closely resembling the pre-disturbance Banksia woodland. To achieve this high resemblance to the reference ecosystem, Hanson operations sought the assistance of the Science Directorate team within the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority in 1995. BGPA developed and implemented a research and adaptive management program with Hanson, resulting in a collaboration involving graduate and post-graduate student research programs into key facets of Banksia woodland ecosystem restoration, application of outcomes into restoration operations, and finally, restoration sites that are beginning to mimic reference sites (Fig.3).

Prior to the partnership, species richness and plant abundance, and thus restoration success, was limited in the rehabilitation. Research and adaptive management subsequently focused on improvements in soil reconstruction; topsoil management; seed germination enhancement (including smoke technology); seed broadcasting technology and whole-of-site weed management.

Monitoring. BGPA scientists have been undertaking annual plant monitoring of Banksia woodland restoration activities within reference and restoration sites for ca 15 years. This has resulted in data-sets on seedling emergence and plant survival within a range of sites, culminating in the development of annual performance criteria and ultimately, the ability to measure restoration performance in the short (e.g. from seedling emergence) and long-term (e.g. from plant survival).

Fig2d

Figure 2. The greatly reduced Banksia woodland sand profile following sand extraction, with topsoil being spread onto the pit floor.

Results. Consolidation of ca 15 years of data from >50 sites (encompassing a range of topsoil quality and climatic conditions) has revealed that stem density and species richness fall into three levels of restoration:

  • good restoration quality (high topsoil quality and favourable climatic conditions).
  • medium restoration quality (poor topsoil quality or unfavourable climatic conditions).
  • poor restoration quality (poor topsoil quality and unfavourable climatic conditions).

The integration of key research areas has resulted in:

  • Identification of first year species re-instatement being the blueprint for long-term species re-instatement.
  • Observation of cryptic soil impedance and extremely high plant loss in the standard ‘topsoil over overburden’ profile during the 2nd summer following restoration, but higher plant re-instatement and better ecosystem dynamics in the long term.
  • Improvement in seedling re-instatement, illustrated by perennial species return increasing from less than 10% to more than 70% (i.e. >100 perennial species), and stem density return of >140 perennial plants per 5m2 in Year 1, primarily due to improved topsoil handling methods – i.e. good quality, fresh and dry topsoil.
  • A ten-fold increase in the stem density of seedlings derived from direct-seeding due to innovative seed coating technology, delivery to site technology and sowing time optimisation.
  • Trebling of seedling recruitment success due to application of smoke technology.
  • Minimised weed invasion through the use of good quality and fresh topsoil, burial of the weed seedbank and prompt active weed management.
FIg3a

Figure 3. Restoration sites after 8 years, illustrating the return of the Banksia trees.

Implications for other sites. The post-sand extraction sites have provided important lessons and information about the management and restoration needs of Banksia woodlands – e.g. a high level of intervention is necessary, whilst cross-application of general restoration principles are not always possible for Banksia woodlands – useful for all those involved with managing and restoring Banksia woodland fragments within the broader Perth region.

Current and future directions. Hanson is committed to ongoing improvement through research – continually testing and employing new research techniques, programs and equipment that are recommended from BGPA research programs.

Post-sand extraction restoration practices now involve:

  • re-instating the soil profile in its natural order of topsoil over overburden, in spite of the cryptic soil impedance witnessed in the overburden in the 2nd summer following restoration;
  • striving for highest seedling establishment in the first year of restoration, prior to onset of soil impedance;
  • stripping and spreading only good quality (free of weeds), fresh and dry topsoil;
  • conserving topsoil by a strip:spread ratio of 1:2 (i.e. stripping over 1ha and spreading over 2ha);
  • burying direct-sown seeds given that seed displacement from wind and invertebrate activity is prolific during the typical seed sowing season; and
  • ceasing the common practices of mulching sites and tree-guarding plants as they provide negative or no benefits.

The partners are considering re-doing sites rehabilitated during 1991-1994, prior to research, in order to improve species diversity.

Acknowlegments: Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority and Hanson Construction Materials are the key parties in this project; involving many individual managers, researchers and students.

Contact: Deanna Rokich – Deanna.Rokich@bgpa.wa.gov.au

Conserving and restoring biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef through the Representative Areas Program (RAP)

Key words: Coral reef, no take zones,

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem (344,400 square km) and a World Heritage Area on the north-east coast of Australia. It contains a high diversity of endemic plants, animals and habitats. It is a multiple-use area with different zones in which a wide range of activities and uses are allowed, including tourism, fishing, recreation, traditional use, research, defence, shipping and ports. Components of the ecosystem have been progressively showing symptoms of decline.

TroutBarra3

Coral Trout is one of more than 1625 fish found on the Great Barrier Reef

Existing ecosystems. Coral reefs are like the building blocks of the Great Barrier Reef, and comprise about seven per cent of the ecosystem. The balance is an extraordinary variety of other marine habitats and communities ranging from shallow inshore areas to deep oceanic areas over 250 kilometres offshore and deeper than 1000 metres, along with their associated ecological processes. The abundant biodiversity in the Great Barrier Reef includes:

  • Some 3000 coral reefs built from more than 400 species of hard coral
  • Over one-third of all the world’s soft coral and sea pen species (150 species)
  • Six of the world’s seven species of marine turtle
  • The largest aggregation of nesting green turtles in the world
  • A globally significant population of dugongs
  • An estimated 35,000 square kilometres of seagrass meadows
  • A breeding area for humpback whales and other whale species
  • More than 130 species of sharks and rays
  • More than 2500 species of sponges
  • 3000 species of molluscs
  • 630 species of echinoderms
  • More than 1625 species of fish
  • Spectacular seascapes and landscapes such as Hinchinbrook Island and the Whitsundays
  • 215 species of bird
Crown-of-thorns single injection (C) GBRMPA cropped

Diver injecting Crown of Thorns Starfish

Impacts on the ecosystem. The main threats to the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem are:

  • Climate change leading to ocean acidification, sea temperature rise and sea level rise
  • Catchment run-off of nutrients, pesticides and excessive sediments
  • Coastal development and associated activities such as clearing or modifying wetlands, mangroves and other coastal habitats
  • Overfishing of some predators, incidental catch of species of conservation concern, effects on other discarded species, fishing of unprotected spawning aggregations, and illegal fishing.
4. GBRMPA staff - public consultation(2)

GBRMPA staff meeting to plan and discuss Representative Areas Program (RAP) at Townsville offices

Restoration goals and planning. A primary aim of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is to increase biodiversity protection, with the added intent of enabling the recovery of areas where impacts had occurred. A strong foundation for this has been achieved through the Representative Areas Program, by developing a representative and comprehensive network of highly protected no-take areas, ensuring they included representative examples of all different habitat types.

The rezoning also provided an opportunity to revise all the zone types to more effectively protect the range of biodiversity.

A further aim was to maximise the benefits and minimise the negative impacts of rezoning on the existing Marine Park users.

These aims were achieved through a comprehensive program of scientific input, community involvement and innovation.

More information on the extensive consultation process is available at http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au.

6. green and yellow zone examples

An example of Green Zones (marine national park) and Yellow Zones  (conservation park)

Monitoring. An independent scientific steering committee with expertise in Great Barrier Reef ecosystems and biophysical processes was convened to define operational principles to guide the development of a comprehensive, adequate and representative network of no-take areas in the Marine Park (Fernandes et al 2005). Science (both biophysical and social science) provided the best available information as a fundamental underpinning for the Representatives Areas Program.

There are currently over 90 monitoring programs operating in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and adjacent catchment. These programs have largely been designed to address and report on specific issues, location or management.

Reef management. GBRMPA’s 25-year management plan outlines a mix of on-ground work, policies, strategies and engagement. The actions include:

  • increasing compliance focus to ensure zoning rules are followed
  • controlling Crown-of-thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci) outbreaks
  • ensuring cumulative impacts are considered when assessing development proposals
  • setting clear targets for action and measuring our success
  • monitoring the health of the ecosystem on a Reef-wide scale
  • implementing a Reef Recovery program to restore sites of high environmental value in regional areas — regional action recognises the variability of the Reef over such a large area and the variability of the issues and interests of communities and industries in each area.

Benefits of zoning to date. The benefits reef ecosystem health are already occurring including:

  • More and bigger fish: Larger fish are important to population recovery as they contribute more larvae than smaller fish. James Cook University research shows the network of no-take marine reserves benefits species of coral reef fish targeted by fishers (especially Coral Trout), with not only more fish, but bigger fish in reserves — some zones have around twice as much fish biomass compared to zones open to fishing.
  • Improved fish recruitment: Research in the Keppel Islands suggests increased reproduction by the more abundant, bigger fish in reserves. This not only benefits populations within those reserves, it also produces a ‘spill over’ when larvae are carried by currents to other reefs, including areas open to fishing.
  • Improved resilience: The spillover effects also mean the connectivity between reserve reefs is intact. Spatial analysis shows most reserve reefs are within the dispersal range of other reserve reefs, so they are able to function as a network.
  • Sharks, dugongs and turtles: These species are harder to protect because they are slow growing and slow breeding. They are also highly mobile, moving in and out of protected zones. Despite this, available evidence shows zoning is benefiting these species.
  • Reduced crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks: Outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish appear to be less frequent on reserve reefs than fished reefs. This is particularly important as Crown-of-thorns Starfish have been the greatest cause of coral mortality on the Reef in recent decades.
  • Zoning benefits for seabed habitats: Zoning has improved protection of seabed habitats, with at least 20 per cent of all non-reefal habitat types protected from trawling.

How the project has influenced other projects. In November 2004, the Queensland Government mirrored the new zoning in most of the adjoining waters under its control. As a result, there is complementary zoning in the Queensland and Australian Government managed waters within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

The approach taken in the Representative Area Program is recognised as one of the most comprehensive and innovative global advances in the systematic protection and recovery of marine biodiversity and marine conservation in recent decades and has gained widespread national international, and local acknowledgement of the process and outcome as best practice, influencing many other marine conservation efforts.

Stakeholders. As a statutory authority within the Australian Government, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is responsible for managing the Marine Park. However, as a World Heritage Area, management of the ecosystem is complex jurisdictionally.

Both the Australian and Queensland governments are involved in managing the waters and islands within the outer boundaries through a range of agencies. GBRMPA works collaboratively with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service through the joint Field Management Program to undertake day-to-day management of the Great Barrier Reef, including its 1050 islands, many of which are national parks. The program’s activities include surveying reefs and islands, dealing with environmental risks such as ghost nets and invasive pests, responding to incidents, maintaining visitor facilities, and upholding compliance with Marine Park legislation and the Zoning Plan.

A wide range of stakeholders have an interest in the Great Barrier Reef, including the community, Traditional Owners, a range of industries and government agencies, and researchers. The public, including the one million people who live in the adjacent catchment (around 20 per cent of Queensland’s population), benefit from economic activities. In recent years, the number of tourists carried by commercial operators to the Great Barrier Reef averaged around 1.6 to 2 million visitor days each year (GBRMPA data) with an estimate of an additional 4.9 million private visitors per annum.

Resourcing. The resourcing required for rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef over the five-year period of the RAP (1999–2003) was significant. It became a major activity for the agency for several years, requiring the re-allocation of resources particularly during the most intense periods of public participation. However, the costs of achieving greater protection for the Reef are readily justified when compared to the economic benefits that a healthy Great Barrier Reef generates every year (about AUD$5.6 billion per annum).

Further information: www.gbrmpa.gov.au

Contact: info@gbrmpa.gov.au

All images courtesy Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

 

The identification and protection of drought refuges for native fish in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Key words: drought, refuge, native fish, Native Fish Strategy

Threats and Impacts: From 1996 to 2009, the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) experienced severe drought conditions. As the impacts of the drought worsened, the need for improved and co-ordinated management responses became increasingly important to protect key ecological assets and critical aquatic habitats and ecosystems. Within the MDB it was uncertain whether an adequate network of drought refuges (e.g. flowing perennial river reaches, deep waterholes) remained to preserve native fish species/populations through extended drought. This project was established to address this knowledge gap.

Aims: The broad aims of the project were to:

  • define, identify and explore the current status and management of drought refuges in the MDB (Figs 1 and 2); and,
  • develop guidelines and an approach to identify, prioritise and protect drought refuges for native fish that can be implemented across the MDB.
Figure 1: A drying refuge (Photo courtesy of Luke Pearce)

Figure 1: A drying refuge (Photo courtesy of Luke Pearce)

Figure 2: Drought refuge on the Condamine River (Photo courtesy of Michael Hutchison)

Figure 2: Drought refuge on the Condamine River (Photo courtesy of Michael Hutchison)

Methods: The current status and management of refuges were explored using a number of techniques including questionnaires, an expert/management workshop and a review of relevant literature and management programs. This process identified the types of habitats that serve as drought refuges across the MDB, the key native fish species that have been targeted for protection under drought response programs, key threats and the current management responses/actions undertaken for refuge protection. In order to catalogue refuge sites, a preliminary list of critical sites was developed in collaboration with managers and experts.

An approach to identify and protect refuges was developed in conjunction with regional agencies and jurisdictions from two pilot valleys: the Goulburn Broken catchment in northern Victoria and the Moonie catchment in south-eastern Queensland. Under this phase of the project, definitions and criteria for identifying and prioritising refuges were developed in conjunction with management agencies. A management tool was developed for collating refuge values and habitat attributes, as well as threats to the maintenance and improvement of these important characteristics. This approach may be used for the prioritisation of interventions based on key management principles, including: threatened species, protection of habitat biodiversity, water allocation, catchment management actions, fisheries management actions and restoration.

Based on the information elicited from the pilot valley analyses, a template was produced to assist in refuge identification and management across the MDB. This template documents a process that can be integrated into regional natural resource management frameworks across the MDB, acknowledging that different states and regions are subject to various legislative and policy environments and possesses varying levels of information, data, planning structures and intervention opportunities that relate to aquatic habitat protection.                                                                

Findings: A wide range of aquatic habitats were considered important as drought refuges, with unregulated waterways the most commonly identified habitat type, and of the greatest concern to managers. In some instances, key native fish species were used to identify particular drought refuges. The protection and/or management of the refuges for these species either followed a ‘single species’ approach (more common in the drier, southern MDB) or ‘multi-species/community’ approach (more common in the northern MDB).

Refuges were defined and identified at larger spatial scales in the northern MDB and at smaller, site-specific scales in the southern MDB. The reason for these different approaches reflects the varying intensity of drought impacts across the MDB. These different approaches to the management and protection of drought refuges reflect the different aspects of native fish ecology, in terms of resistance versus resilience.

This study concluded that a holistic approach to drought management was required with drought refuge protection plans incorporating enough flexibility to identify and invest in emergency short-term responses during peak drought periods as well as having guidelines in place aimed at broader scales to promote long-term resilience in native fish populations.

Lessons learned and future directions:  This study has reinforced that priority areas which act as drought refuges require adequate management to ensure the long term survival of native fish populations. This study identified the two scales at which drought management operates and the strengths of each scale to address both short and long-term impacts of drought on native fish and their habitats. This information will ultimately lead to better drought management regarding native fish and their habitats, which will minimise the risk of loss of native fish species and populations and preserve native fish habitats.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies: This project was funded through the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Native Fish Strategy.

Contact: Dr Dale McNeil, South Australian Research and Development Institute. Tel: + 61  8 8207 5342, Email:  dale.mcneil@sa.gov.au

Captions

 

Figure 2: A drying refuge (Photo courtesy of Luke Pearce)

LINK: http://www.sardi.sa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/186702/Drought_Refuges_for_Native_Fish.pdf

Assessment of an infrared fish counter (Vaki Riverwatcher) to quantify fish migrations in the Murray-Darling Basin

Key words: infrared, fish counting, VAKI Riverwatcher, fish migration, Native Fish Strategy

A number of fishways have been constructed under the auspices of the NFS to help reinstate passage of fish past a number of barriers in the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB). Because it is too expensive to continuously trap fishways to gather information on migratory behaviour, using an electronic monitoring unit to continuously monitor fish migrations is an attractive option for monitoring fish movement and fishway effectiveness. The Vaki Riverwatcher technology has been successfully used in Northern Hemisphere rivers to count and measure the size, date and shapes of fish which pass through an infrared scanner. Prior to this project, this technology had not been trialled on Australian rivers and species to evaluate utility for monitoring purposes.

Broad aim and specific objectives: This study aimed to perform a field study on the effectiveness of an infrared fish counter, the Vaki Riverwatcher in anticipation of wider application throughout the Murray-Darling Basin. The limitations and advantages of the system were fully explored in both controlled and field environments.

The objectives of this project were to:

  • perform a field assessment of an infrared fish counter in the Basin;
  • determine if turbidity reduces the accuracy of an infrared fish counter; and
  • determine how fish behave in relation to an infrared fish counter and fish trap.

Methods: Laboratory trials were undertaken to determine the ability of the Riverwatcher (Figs 1-3) to cope with different turbidity and fish migration rates. Silver Perch (Bidyanus bidyanus) were passed through the unit under a range of turbidity between 0 and 100 Nephelometric turbidity units (NTU).

Field trials were undertaken at Lock 10, on the Murray River (near Wentworth), which had been retro-fitted with a vertical slot fishway in 2006. The unit was used in conjunction with a DIDSON sonar unit and a standard fish trap, to assess the ability of the Riverwatcher to distinguish different species, count migrating fish, estimate the size of migratory fish and to assess fish behaviour in and around the unit.

Field trials were also performed to test the Vaki Riverwatcher system under river conditions. The unit was used in conjunction with other electronic monitoring gear, and also fish traps, to assess the ability of the Riverwatcher to distinguish different species, count migrating fish, estimate the size of migratory fish and to assess fish behaviour in and around the unit.

Figure 1. The Vaki Riverwatcher (Photo courtesy of Lee Baumgartner)

Figure 1. The Vaki Riverwatcher (Photo courtesy of Lee Baumgartner)

Figure 2. Installing the vaki riverwatcher into the lock 10 fishway (Photo courtesy of Lee Baumgartner)

Figure 2. Installing the vaki riverwatcher into the lock 10 fishway (Photo courtesy of Lee Baumgartner)

Figure 3. Manipulating turbidity to quantify vaki effectiveness (photo courtesy of Lee Baumgartner)

Figure 3. Manipulating turbidity to quantify vaki effectiveness (photo courtesy of Lee Baumgartner)

Findings: The Riverwatcher performed well and counted hundreds of migrating fish. Fish counts from the unit roughly corresponded with those caught within a fish trap upstream of the unit. However, the unit tended to underestimate fish size and some fish avoided contact with the unit.

Experimental trials on the impacts of turbidity on the Riverwatcher revealed that the unit generally overestimated fish counts during low turbidity but underestimated during high turbidity. It was also difficult to identify fish that actively avoiding passage through the unit.

Lessons learned and future directions: The Riverwatcher unit provided a powerful mechanism to monitor fish movement but often underestimated fish numbers and lengths which detracted from the quality of the hardware. If these limitations are overcome, or at least quantified, the unit would represent a cost effective mechanism to count and measure migrating fish.

The unit has a range of potential applications including within fishways, at floodplain regulators, within supply channels or other points of suspected fish movement. It is flexible in terms of operation, but is limited by the restricted width of the scanner unit. Where width or depth is an issue, additional scanner units can be linked together to create an array which can give wider spatial coverage of the target area. Provided the site of application is a known point of fish movement, obtaining count and size data on migrants would be possible and should be considered for a long-term deployment at a key site of fish migration in the Basin. Additional trials would help to determine if the gear is suitable for determining trends in fish movement over a longer time period.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies: This project was funded through the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Native Fish Strategy. 

Contact: Dr Lee Baumgartner, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries. Tel: + 61 2 6958 8215, Email: lee.baumgartner@dpi.nsw.gov.au

LINK: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/322970/AE_2010_Output-1629_Baumgartner-et-all_Vaki-Riverwatcher-report_REPORT.pdf

Scoping study to determine the methodologies and data availability for identifying native fish hotspots in the Murray-Darling Basin

Key words: hotspots, resilience, native fish, Native Fish Strategy

Recent ecological research at the landscape scale suggests that there may be key locations, or “hotspots”, that play a disproportionate role in sustaining species and ecological communities. The identification of native fish “hotspots’ in the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) would greatly assist managers in protecting biodiversity and maintaining important ecological processes for native fishes.

Broad aim and specific objectives: This scoping study was undertaken to help guide future investment in the identification of “hotspots” in the Basin, by conducting broad reviews of the literature and available data, and consulting extensively with a range of relevant experts to:

  • develop an appropriate definition for what constitutes a native fish hotspot in the MDB;
  • identify the requirements of resource managers and other stakeholder groups including the Authority to maximise utility and adoption of the hotspots project;
  • identify information already available which may be useful to identify native fish ‘hotspots’;
  • determine appropriate metrics/methodologies to identify geographical areas or ‘hotspots’ across the MDB that are significant for native fishes in terms of species diversity, population densities and key ecological processes;
  • develop an appropriate experimental design for a large-scale project to demonstrate the applicability of the hotspots concept and subsequently enable the extrapolation across the whole of the MDB; and,
  • provide a template for similar studies to be undertaken on other fish species in the Basin.
Figure 1. A healthy stretch of the Murrumbidgee with plenty of habitat for native fish (Photo courtesy of Jamin Forbes)

Figure 1. A healthy stretch of the Murrumbidgee with plenty of habitat for native fish (Photo courtesy of Jamin Forbes)

Figure 2. Identification of native fish 'hotspots' would greatly assist in the management of native fish communities (Photo courtesy of Jamin Forbes)

Figure 2. Identification of native fish ‘hotspots’ would greatly assist in the management of native fish communities (Photo courtesy of Jamin Forbes)

Methods:  The first stage of the scoping study was to define the hotspots concept and management applicability of the project for key stakeholders within the MDB. This was achieved through an extensive review of the background literature of the hotspots concept (both within Australia and globally) and an expert panel workshop to:

  • clearly define the hotspots concept for use in the MDB and within the project, with particular reference to types of criteria;
  • explore spatial and temporal variability within existing datasets for identifying hotspots; and,
  • explore the management applicability and use of MDB hotspots for native fish.

A second expert panel workshop was held to review relevant ecological information for the priority species and communities, sampling methodologies and the spatial and temporal coverage of existing data and with the aims of:

  • determining appropriate sampling methodologies for identifying hotspots of priority species and communities; and,
  • using this methodology and data availability to develop an appropriate study design which could be used in Stage II of the of the project to identify ‘hotspots’ across the MDB that are significant for native fish.

Findings: The study mainly focussed on four high priority native fish species; Murray Cod (Macculochella peelii), Silver Perch (Bidyanus bidyanus), Golden Perch (Macquaria ambigua) and Freshwater Catfish (Tandanus tandanus), though some consideration was also given to some other species of conservation concern. The study defined a “hotspot” as being “areas within riverscapes that have extraordinary importance for fish or processes that sustain native fish populations”.

The study highlighted the importance of understanding the processes underlying hotspots in order to maximise the efficiency of management actions and conservation measures to ensure cost-effective return on interventions. To achieve this, a suite of suitable metrics were developed which encompassed both direct measures of fish and measures of the ecological drivers supporting them for each of the priority species and communities.

The study concluded that insufficient data currently exists to adequately identify hotspots across the MDB. However, this project provided an approach and suitable methods to collect relevant data that could then be used with current data to determine and describe hotspots in the MDB.

It was recommended that the next step should be to investigate large-scale patterns in focus species abundance using existing datasets, determine the applicability of the hotspots concept for all metrics in a subset of river valleys, then expand on observed trends to other valleys to identify hotspots throughout the MDB.

Lessons learned and future directions:

The identification of “hotspots’ in the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) would greatly assist managers in protecting biodiversity and maintaining important ecological processes for native fishes. This study provides a pathway by which to engage the next step in the process of validating the hotspot concept in the MDB. This will identify critically important habitat required for protecting or rehabilitation to support priority native fish species.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies:  This project was funded through the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Native Fish Strategy.

Contacts: Zeb Tonkin, South Australian Research and Development Institute. Tel: + 61 3 9450 8600, Email: zeb.tonkin@depi.vic.gov.au.