Category Archives: Reserve management

Restoration and conservation in an iconic National Park – UPDATE of EMR feature

David Lindenmayer, Chris MacGregor, Natasha Robinson, Claire Foster, and Nick Dexter

Update to article published in EMR – Booderee National Park Management: Connecting science and management – doi: 10.1111/emr.12027

Keywords: Invasive animal and plant control, reintroduction, monitoring

Introduction

Booderee National Park is an iconic, species-rich, coastal reserve that supports a range of threatened and endangered native animals and plants. Several key management actions have been implemented to promote the conservation of biodiversity in Booderee National Park. These include the control of an exotic predator (the Red Fox Vulpes vulpes), the control of highly invasive Bitou Bush (Chrysanthemoides monilifera subsp. rotundata), the management of fire, and the reintroduction of previously extinct native mammals. A key part of work at Booderee National Park has been a long-term monitoring program that commenced in late 2002 and which has aimed to quantify the effectiveness of major management interventions, including the four listed above. The monitoring program has documented the long-term trajectories of populations of birds, arboreal marsupials, terrestrial mammals, reptiles, frogs and native plants in a range of major vegetation types (from heathland and sedgeland to woodland, forest and rainforest) and in response to fire, and weed and feral predator control. Importantly, the monitoring program has provided a foundational platform from which a suite of post-graduate studies and other research programs have been completed.

Further works undertaken

A key part of the researcher-manager partnership has been to analyse the long-term trajectories of populations of mammals, birds and reptiles in Booderee National Park. The monitoring data indicate that many species of mammals are declining, with some having become recently locally extinct (e.g. Greater Glider Petauroides volans) or close to extinction in the reserve (e.g. Common Ringtail Possum Pseudocheirus peregrinus) . This is despite populations of these species persisting in nearby reserves.  Robust interrogation of the multi-taxa monitoring data has been unable to identify reasons for these declines. Interestingly, the declines observed for mammals have not been observed to date in other vertebrate groups, including birds, reptiles and amphibians. An experimentally-based reintroduction program for the Greater Glider aims to not only re-establish populations of the species in Booderee National Park, but also to identify the reasons for the original decline. That program will be in addition to reintroduction programs already underway for other mammal species, the Long-nosed Potoroo (Potorous tridactylus), the Southern Brown Bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus) and Eastern Quoll (Dasyurus vivverinus) that used to inhabit Booderee National Park but which went extinct many decades earlier.

Additional research being undertaken in Booderee National Park has included: (1) studies of the effectiveness of control efforts for Bitou Bush and associated recovery of native vegetation and native fauna, (2) the interactive effects of fire and browsing on native plants and an array of animal groups, and (3) studies of leaf litter and other fuel dynamics in relation to previous fire history and macropod browsing.

Figure 1. Key area of Booderee National Park showing an area of coastal forest before and after Bitou Bush treatment.

Further results to date

Research and monitoring in the past six years have resulted in many new insights including some of considerable value for informing restoration programs. A small subset of these findings is outlined below.

  • Conventional approaches to the control of invasive Bitou Bush entail spraying ultra-low volume herbicide (Fig. 1), followed by burning of the “cured” dead material, and then respraying of the seedlings that germinate after fire. This spray-burn-spray protocol is both the most ecologically effective and the most cost-effective way of controlling Bitou Bush and, at the same time, facilitates the recovery of native vegetation. More recent analysis has revealed spray frequency as the most important determinant of long-term control. There are mixed effects of control methods on native species; plant species abundance was positively related to Bitou Bush control, while native bird abundance (except for Eastern Bristlebird Dasyornis brachypterus, Fig 2.) and mammal abundance were weakly negatively associated with Bitou control.
  • There can be strong interactions between the occurrence of fire and browsing by macropods on native plants as well as particular groups of animals such as spiders.
  • Reintroduction programs for the Southern Brown Bandicoot and Eastern Quoll have been relatively successful, although the latter species suffers high rates of mortality, particularly as a result of fox predation and collisions with motor vehicles. Nevertheless, populations of both species have survived over multiple years and reproduced successfully.

Figure 2. The Eastern Bristlebird, a species for which Booderee National Park is a stronghold. Notably, the species responds positively to management interventions to control Bitou Bush. (Photo Graeme Chapman)

Lessons learned and future directions

The work at Booderee National Park is a truly collaborative partnership between reserve managers, a university and the local Indigenous community.  A key part of the enduring, long-term success of the project has been that a full-time employee of The Australian National University has been stationed permanently in the Parks Australia office in the Jervis Bay Territory. That person (CM) works on an almost daily basis within Booderee National Park and this provides an ideal way to facilitate communication of new research and monitoring results to managers. It also enables emerging management concerns to be included as part of adaptive monitoring practices.

One of the key lessons learned from the long-term work has been the extent of ecological “surprises” – that is, highly unexpected results, including those which continue to remain unexplained. An example is the rapid loss of the Greater Glider and the major decline in populations of the Common Ringtail Possum. One of the clear benefits of this integrated monitoring-management team has been the rapid response to emerging threats. For example in response to high rates of mortality of reintroduced Eastern Quolls, control of the Red Fox was intensified within the park and greater cross-tenure control efforts with neighbouring private and public land managers have commenced. Regular evaluation of monitoring data and management actions has also enabled careful examination of the kinds of risks that can compromise reintroduction programs. These and other learnings will inform other, future reintroduction and translocation programs that are planned for Booderee National Park such as that for the Greater Glider.

Stakeholders and funding bodies

Ongoing work has been supported by many funding bodies and partners. These include the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community who are the Traditional Owners of Booderee National Park as well as Parks Australia who co-manage the park with the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community. Other key funders include the Department of Defence, the Thomas Foundation, The National Environmental Science Program (Threatened Species Recovery Hub), the Australian Research Council, the Margaret Middleton Foundation, and the Norman Wettenhall Foundation. Partnerships with Rewilding Australia, Taronga Conservation Society, WWF Australia, NSW Forestry Corporation and various wildlife sanctuaries have been instrumental to reintroduction programs.

Contact information

David Lindenmayer, Chris MacGregor, Natasha Robinson and Claire Foster are with the National Environmental Science Program (Threatened Species Recovery Hub), Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University (Canberra, ACT, 2601, david.lindenmayer@anu.edu.au). Nick Dexter is with Parks Australia, Jervis Bay Territory, Australia, 2540.

The Tiromoana Bush restoration project, Canterbury, New Zealand

Key words: Lowland temperate forest, animal pest control, weed control, restoration plantings, public access, cultural values, farmland restoration

Introduction. Commencing in 2004, the 407 ha Tiromoana Bush restoration project arose as part of the mitigation for the establishment of the Canterbury Regional Landfill at Kate Valley, New Zealand. The site lies one hour’s drive north of Christchurch City in North Canterbury coastal hill country (Motunau Ecological District, 43° 06’ S, 172° 51’ E, 0 – 360 m a.s.l.) and is located on a former sheep and beef farm.

Soils are derived from tertiary limestones and mudstones and the site experiences an annual rainfall of 920mm, largely falling in winter. The current vegetation is a mix of Kānuka (Kunzea robusta) and mixed-species shrubland and low forest, restoration plantings, wetlands, Gorse (Ulex europaeus) and European Broom (Cytisus scoparius) shrubland and abandoned pasture. Historically the area would have been forest, which was likely cleared 500-700 years ago as a result of early Māori settlement fires. A total of 177 native vascular plant and 22 native bird species have been recorded, including four nationally threatened species and several regionally rare species.

Before and after photo pair (2005-2018). showing extensive infilling of native woody vegetation on hill slopes opposite, restoration plantings in the central valley, and successional change from small-leaved shrubs to canopy forming trees in the left foreground. (Photos David Norton.)

 

Project aims. The long-term vision for this project sees Tiromoana Bush, in 300 years, restored to a: “Predominantly forest ecosystem (including coastal broadleaved, mixed podocarp-broadleaved and black beech forests) where dynamic natural processes occur with minimal human intervention, where the plants and animals typical of the Motunau Ecological District persist without threat of extinction, and where people visit for recreation and to appreciate the restored natural environment.”

Thirty-five year outcomes have been identified that, if achieved, will indicate that restoration is proceeding towards the vision – these are:

  1. Vigorous regeneration is occurring within the existing areas of shrubland and forest sufficient to ensure that natural successional processes are leading towards the development of mature lowland forest.
  2. The existing Korimako (Bellbird Anthornis melanura) population has expanded and Kereru (Native Pigeon Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) are now residing within the area, and the species richness and abundance of native water birds have been enhanced.
  3. The area of Black Beech (Fuscospora solandri) forest has increased with at least one additional Black Beech population established.
  4. Restoration plantings and natural regeneration have enhanced connectivity between existing forest patches.
  5. Restoration plantings have re-established locally rare vegetation types.
  6. The area is being actively used for recreational, educational and scientific purposes.

Day-to-day management is guided by a five-year management plan and annual work plans. The management plan provides an overview of the approach that is being taken to restoration, while annual work plans provide detail on the specific management actions that will be undertaken to implement the management plan.

Forest restoration plantings connecting two areas of regenerating Kānuka forest. Photo David Norton.

 

Restoration approach and outcomes to date. The main management actions taken and outcomes achieved have included:

  • An Open Space Covenant was gazetted on the title of the property in July 2006 through the QEII National Trust, providing in-perpetuity protection of the site irrespective of future ownership.
  • Browsing by cattle and sheep was excluded at the outset of the project through upgrading existing fences and construction of new fences. A 16 km deer fence has been built which together with intensive animal control work by ground-based hunters has eradicated Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) and helped reduce damage caused by feral pigs (Sus scrofa domesticus).
  • Strategic restoration plantings have been undertaken annually to increase the area of native woody and wetland vegetation, as well as providing food and nesting resources for native birds. A key focus of these has been on enhancing linkages between existing areas of regenerating forest and re-establishing rare ecosystem types (e.g. wetland and coastal forest).
  • Annual weed control is undertaken focusing on species that are likely to alter successional development (e.g. wilding conifers, mainly Pinus radiata, and willows Salix cinerea and fragilis) or that have the potential to smother native regeneration (e.g. Old Man’s Beard Clematis vitalba). Gorse and European Broom are not controlled as they act as a nurse for native forest regeneration and the cost and collateral damage associated with their control will outweigh biodiversity benefits.
  • Establishment of a public walking track was undertaken early in the project and in 2017/2018 this was enhanced and extended, with new interpretation included. Public access has been seen as a core component of the project from the outset so the public can enjoy the restoration project and access a section of the coastline that is otherwise relatively inaccessible.
  • Part of the walkway upgrade included working closely with the local Māori tribe, Ngāi Tūāhuriri, who have mana whenua (customary ownership) over the area. They were commissioned to produce a pou whenua (land marker) at the walkway’s coastal lookout. The carvings on the pou reflect cultural values and relate to the importance of the area to Ngāi Tūāhuriri and especially values associated with mahinga kai (the resources that come from the area).
  • Regular monitoring has included birds, vegetation and landscape, with additional one-off assessments of invertebrates and animal pests. Tiromoana Bush has been used as the basis for several undergraduate and postgraduate student research projects from the two local universities.
Vigorous regeneration of Mahoe under the Kānuka canopy following exclusion of grazing animals. Photo David Norton.

 

Lessons learned. Important lessons learned over the 15-years have both shaped the approach to management at this site and have implications for the management of other projects:

  • Control of browsing mammals, both domestic and feral, has been essential to the success of this project. While domestic livestock were excluded at the outset of the project, feral Red Deer and pigs have the potential to seriously compromise restoration outcomes and these species have required additional management inputs (fencing and culling).
  • Since removal of grazing, the dominant exotic pasture grasses, especially Cocksfoot (Dactylis gomerata), now form tall dense swards. These swards severely restrict the ability of native woody plants to establish and herbicide control is used both pre- and post-planting to overcome this. During dry summers (which are common) the grass sward is also a significant fuel source and the walkway is closed during periods of high fire risk to avoid accidental fires which would decimate the restoration project.
  • Regular monitoring is important for assessing the biodiversity response to management. Annual photo-monitoring now spanning 15-years is highlighting significant changes in land cover across the site, while more detailed monitoring of plants and birds is strongly informing management actions. For example, seven-years of bird monitoring has indicated an ongoing decline in some native birds that is most likely due to predation (by cats, mustelids, rodents, hedgehogs). As a result, a predator control programme is commencing in 2019.
  • Simply removing grazing pressure from areas of existing regenerating native woody vegetation cannot be expected to result in the return of the pre-human forest because of the absence of seed sources. Permanent plots suggest that Kānuka is likely to be replaced by Mahoe (Melicytus ramiflorus), with few other tree species present. Gap creation and enrichment planting is therefore being used to speed up the development of a more diverse podocarp-angiosperm forest canopy.
Kate Pond on the Tiromoana Bush walkway. The pond and surrounding wetland provides habitat for several native water birds. Photo Jo Stilwell.
The pou whenua on the coastal lookout platform looking north up the coastline. Photo David Norton.

 

Looking to the future. Considerable progress in restoring native biodiversity at Tiromoana Bush has been achieved over the last 15 years and it seems likely that the project will continue to move towards achieving its 35-year outcomes and eventually realising the long-term vision. To help guide management, the following goals have been proposed for the next ten-years and their achievement would further help guarantee the success of this project:

  • The main valley floor is dominated by regenerating Kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides) forest and wetland, and the lower valley is dominated by regenerating coastal vegetation.
  • At least one locally extinct native bird species has been reintroduced.
  • Tiromoana Bush is managed as part of a wider Motunau conservation project.
  • The restoration project is used regularly as a key educational resource by local schools.
  • The walkway is regarded as an outstanding recreational experience and marketed by others as such.
  • Tiromoana Bush is highly valued by Ngāi Tūāhuriri.
Kereru, one of the native birds that restoration aims to help increase in abundance. Photo David Norton.

 

Stakeholders and funding. The project is funded by Transwaste Canterbury Ltd., a public-private partnership company who own the landfill and have been active in their public support for the restoration project and in promoting a broader conservation initiative in the wider area. Shareholders of the partnership company are Waste Management NZ Ltd, Christchurch City Council and Waimakariri, Hurunui, Selwyn and Ashburton District Councils.

Contact Information. Professor David Norton, Project Coordinator, School of Forestry, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand. Phone +64 (027) 201-7794. Email david.norton@canterbury.ac.nz

Lord Howe Island biodiversity restoration and protection programs, NSW, Australia

Hank Bower

Key words: Pest species management, weed control, community engagement.

Figure 1. Weeding teams apply search effort across near 80% of island terrain, their effort monitored through record of GPS track logs across designated weed management blocks. Target weeds on LHI are mostly bird dispersed requiring landscape scale for sustainable and long-term protection from weeds. The remaining 20% of island is subject to surveillance and with investigation of new technical approaches in weed detection using drones.

Introduction: Lord Howe Island (LHI) is located in the Tasman Sea 760 km northeast of Sydney and 570 km east of Port Macquarie. In 1982 the island was inscribed on the World Heritage (WH) List under the United Nations’ World Heritage Convention in recognition of its superlative natural phenomena and its rich terrestrial and marine biodiversity as an outstanding example of an island ecosystem developed from submarine volcanic activity.

The island supports at least 80% cover of native vegetation, broadly described as Oceanic Rainforest with Oceanic Cloud Forest on the mountain summits.  LHI vegetation comprises 239 native vascular plant species with 47% being endemic. Forest ecosystems on LHI are largely intact, but at threat from invasive species and climate change. About 75% of the terrestrial part of the WH property is recognised as a Permanent Park Preserve (PPP) managed on behalf of the New South Wales government by the Lord Howe Island Board on the basis of a holistic conservation and restoration plan (Lord Howe Island Biodiversity Management Plan LHI BMP 2007).

Since settlement of the island in 1834, introduced and invasive plant and animal species have been affecting the Lord Howe Island environment, causing declines in biodiversity and ecosystem health. There have been 11 known extinctions and severe declines in numbers of fauna species including the flightless Lord Howe Woodhen (Hypotaenidia sylvestris), once regarded as one of the rarest birds in the world.  The Lord Howe Island Phasmid (Dryococelus australis), the world’s largest stick insect was feared extinct until the rediscovery of live specimens on Balls Pyramid in 2001. Some 29 species of introduced vertebrates and about 271 species of introduced plant species have naturalised on the island. At least 68 species are the focus for eradication (Fig 1), with 10 main invasive species having colonised extensive areas of the settlement and the PPP, posing a serious threat to island habitats. One of the most serious weeds, Ground Asparagus (Asparagus aethiopicus), for example, was so prolific in the forest understory it completely overwhelmed native vegetation and bird breeding grounds. Weeds are prioritised for eradication following a Weed Risk Assessment and are typically species that are at low density, are localised and/or are limited to gardens, and species with known weed characteristics (e.g. wind or bird dispersed seeds) that have yet to express their weed potential. Identifying species for early intervention is important to prevent their establishment and expansion, particularly post rodent eradication. For example, the removal of 25 individual Cats Claw Creeper in 2006 (which have not been detected since) supports the case for proactive weed management.

The islands limited size and isolation provides great opportunities to achieve complete removal and eradication of key invasive species.  Therefore particular strategies identified in the LHI BMP to effect ecosystem recovery include the management and eradication of invasive weeds, rodents, tramp ants and protection from plant diseases and pathogens.  All projects are delivered at an island wide scale, which incorporates a permanent population of 350 residents and a tourist bed limit of 400.

Works undertaken   Progressive programs to eradicate feral animals commenced in 1979 with the eradication of pig Sus scrofa, cat Felus catus in 1982, goat Capra hircus in 1999 and African Big-headed Ant Pheidole megacephala in 2018. Threatened fauna recovery programs include the captive breeding of Lord Howe Woodhen following the eradication of cats, establishing a captive breeding and management program for the Lord Howe Island Phasmid and the planning and gaining of approvals to implement the eradication program for Black Rat Rattus rattus, House Mouse Mus musculus and introduced Masked Owl Tyto novehollandiae commencing in 2019.

The island wide strategic Weed Eradication Program commenced in 2004, building on earlier years of ad-hoc control effort.  Over 2.4 million weeds have been removed through more than 170,000 hours of grid search method.  Now, near mid-way point of a 30-year LHI Weed Eradication Project (LHIWEP), teams have reduced weed infestations (of all life stages) by 80%.  Ten year program results of the LHIWEP are summarised (LHIB 2016 – Breaking Bad) http://www.cabi.org/isc/abstract/20163360302, which clearly shows the significance of multi-invasive species management to achieve ecosystem recovery.

With the spread of Myrtle Rust Austropuccinia psidii to the Australian mainland in 2010 the LHI Board has been on high alert.  With five endemic plants at risk to this pathogen the LHIB provided training and information to the community on the threats to the island and food plants. The LHIB prepared a Rapid Response Plan and a Rapid Response Kit (fungicides and Personal Protective Equipment). In October 2016 Myrtle Rust was detected on exotic Myrtaceae species, from three leases and subsequently treated in November 2016. This also resulted in the eradication of three highly susceptible exotic myrtaceous plant species from the island.

The root fungus Phytophthora cinnamomi is known from one lease and has been quarantined and treated with granular fungicide quarterly. Periodic monitoring has shown the infestation to be reducing with the eventual aim of eradication. Boot sanitization stations located at all track heads applies effort to prevent introduction of root rot fungus and other soil borne pathogens from users of the walking track system in the PPP.

The LHI Board has carried out a range of local community engagement and visitor education programs to raise awareness of the risks and threats to the island environment and of the LHIB environmental restoration and protection programs. These include a LHI User Guide for visitors to the island and a citizen science program with the LHI Museum, establishing the LHI Conservation Volunteer program to help improve awareness of the importance of LHI conservation programs to both tourists and tourism business. Since 2005, over 150 volunteers supported by the LHIB and external grants have been engaged through the weed eradication project. Increasingly, LHI residents are volunteering to gain experience and to improve employment opportunities in restoring their island. Another long-term partner, Friends of Lord Howe Island, provide invaluable volunteer assistance with their Weeding Ecotours, contributing more than 24,000 hours of weeding building valuable networks.

Biosecurity awareness is critical to protect the investment in conservation programs and the environment to future threats. The LHI Board provide information regarding biosecurity risks to the community, stevedores and restaurateurs. The LHIB now hold two biosecurity detection dogs and handlers on island (Figure 3) whom work with Qantas and freight flights and shipping staff to ensure they are aware of biosecurity risks and plan for appropriate responses.

Results to date.  Achievements include the successful eradication of over 10 weed species, cat, pig, goat, African Big-headed Ant and Myrtle Rust. A further 20+ weeds are considered on the verge of being able to be declared eradicated in coming years with an 80% reduction in weed density island wide and a 90% reduction in the presence of mature weeds. Weed Risk Assessments will be applied to determine the impact or new and emerging weeds and appropriate management actions.

As a result of the eradication of feral pigs and cats and an on-island captive breeding program, the endangered Lord Howe Island Woodhen has recovered to an average of 250 birds. The other eradications, along with the significant reduction in dense and widespread weed invasions, has aided the recovery and protection of numerous endemic and threatened species and their habitats. The program’s significant outcomes have been recognised through the IUCN Conservation Outlook which in 2017 scored the Lord Howe Island Group’s outlook as good, primarily due to the success of projects that have, are being and are planned to be implemented to restore and protect the islands unique World Heritage values. In late 2018 the program received awards for excellence from the Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia (SERA), Green Globe and Banksia Foundations, acknowledging the sustained effort from the Board and Island community in working to restore and protect the island.

Lessons learned and future directions:  The main keys to success has been obtaining expert scientific and management input and actively working with, educating and involving the community (lease holders and local businesses) to help achieve the solution to mitigate and remove invasive species.

The Rodent Eradication Program scheduled for winter 2019 will result in less browsing pressure on both native and invasive plants species, as well as the removal of two domestic pests. Prior to the program the LHIB has targeted the control of introduced plants, currently in low numbers, that may spread after rodent eradication. Monitoring programs are in place to measure ecosystem response with a particular focus on the Endangered Ecological Community Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest on the summit of Mt Gower. Should the project be successful, consideration can be given to the reintroduction of captive bred individuals of the Lord Howe Island Phasmid as well as other species confined to offshore islands (e.g. Lord Howe Wood Feeding Roach Panesthia lata) or ecological equivalent species on other islands (Norfolk Boobook Owl Ninox novaeseelandiae, Norfolk Parakeet Cyanoramphus cookii, Norfolk Island Grey Fantail Rhipidura albiscapa and Island Warbler Gerygone igata).

Stakeholders and Funding bodies:  The Program is managed by the Lord Howe Island Board and the NSW Department of Environment and Heritage, in collaboration with the local LHI community.

The LHI Board acknowledge the generations of islander stewardship, teams on ground, researchers, the funding and support agencies, all who made it happen. These include but are not limited to NSW Environmental Trust, Caring for Our Country, National Landcare Program, North Coast Local Land Services, Zoos Victoria, Taronga Zoo, Australian Museum, CSIRO, Friends of LHI, the Norman Wettenhall Foundation and Churchill Trust.

Contact: Hank Bower, Manager Environment/World Heritage, Lord Howe Island Board, PO Box 5, LORD HOWE ISLAND, NSW 2898, Tel: +61 2 65632066 (ext 23), Fax: 02 65632127, hank.bower@lhib.nsw.gov.au

Video conference presentation: https://www.aabr.org.au/portfolio-items/protecting-paradise-restoring-the-flora-and-fauna-of-world-heritage-listed-lord-howe-island-hank-bower-and-sue-bower-lhi-board-aabr-forum-2016/

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).

Arid Recovery – Roxby Downs, South Australia

Key words. Feral-proof fence, native animal reintroductions, feral animal control.

Introduction. Arid Recovery is a conservation research initiative based in the South Australian arid zone and dedicated to the restoration of Australia’s arid lands. Established in 1997, the program is centred around a 123km² fenced reserve but it is continually expanding into the wider region. Feral cats, rabbits and foxes have been eradicated from a total of 60km² and this has provided an area of complete protection into which four species of locally extinct mammals have so far been reintroduced.

Although the fenced reserve provides a core area for animal re-introductions, the long term aim of Arid Recovery is to develop broadscale control techniques for feral animals to facilitate the restoration of the entire arid zone ecosystem including re-introducing herbivores, predators and insectivores to create a natural functioning ecosystem that requires minimal management. Specific goals include to:

  • eradicate feral cats, foxes and rabbits and re-establish native species,
  • research and monitor the processes of ecological restoration and provide transferable information and techniques for broadscale management of Australia’s arid lands

Arid Recovery is also committed to increasing education and awareness of arid zone issues and has an education program that includes indigenous youth and local schools.

Degradation. At least 27 species of native mammal once inhabited the Roxby Downs region but over 60% have become locally or completely extinct since European settlement. Some bird species such as the Bush Thick-knee and Plains Wanderer have also become locally extinct or endangered.

The main reasons for the decline of the local native fauna and flora are overgrazing by rabbits and domestic stock, and predation from introduced animals like the feral cat and fox. Medium-sized desert mammals have been most affected with many now globally extinct or have disappeared from mainland Australia and survive only on off-shore islands.

Since the inception of grazing in arid rangelands, there have been extensive vegetation changes. Many parts of arid Australia were severely over-grazed by sheep and cattle during the advent of pastoralism in the 19th Century. Overgrazing by domestic stock and rabbits has a significant effect on arid zone vegetation; long-lived arid zone trees and shrubs are prevented from regenerating, and long-lived plant species are being replaced by short-lived annual and weed species. Whilst current pastoral practices are much more conservative there are still many areas degraded by pastoralism.

Our restoration work. A feral-proof fence has been designed and installed to protect a total area of 123km². The fence was built in blocks and to date, 123 square km of arid land has been fenced and control programs implemented for rabbits, cats and foxes (Fig 1.) . Six locally-extinct threatened species were reintroduced: Greater Stick Nest Rat (Leporillus conditor), Burrowing Bettong (Bettongia lesueur), Greater Bilby (Macrotis lagotis), Western Barred Bandicoot (Perameles bougainville), Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) and Woma Python (Aspidites ramsayi). (See results below.)

Figure 1. Map of the reserve showing cumulative addition of fenced areas.

Figure 1. Map of the reserve showing cumulative addition of fenced areas.

Monitoring. More than 500 monitoring sites have been established to document the restoration process including annual pitfall trapping, burrow monitoring, seedling counts, photopoints and spoor counts. Recruitment of seedlings is monitored inside and outside the Arid Recovery Reserve to determine the impact of rabbits and domestic stock on the survival of seedlings.

Results of our work.

  • Rabbits, cats and foxes have been eradicated from 60 square km pf the Arid Recovery Reserve.
  • Four of the mammal species (Greater Stick Nest Rat, Burrowing Bettong, Greater Bilby and Western Barred Bandicoot) were successfully reintroduced. The Numbat and Woma Python reintroductions were unsuccessful,
  • The fence design has now been adopted by many projects both within Australia and internationally (e.g. Hawaii, Queensland). Results from 10 years of pitfall trapping show that native rodents have now increased to 10 times inside the Reserve compared to outside areas where cats and foxes are still present.
  • Results of the monitoring of plant recruitment to date suggest that survival of Mulga (Acacia aneura) seedlings is much higher where rabbits and grazing pressure by other herbivores has been removed.

Research program. Where published information or advice was not available, Arid Recovery implemented its own research programs to test various on-ground techniques and then adopted the most effective methods. Arid Recovery’s four co-founders are all ecologists and have ensured that all management and monitoring has an adaptive management focus and that overall ecosystem restoration is more important than single species recovery.

The University of Adelaide is a partner organisation and has provided research students, scientific advice and staff management. Research into effective rabbit and cat control methods has now been published for use by other land managers. Research has been conducted into the ecosystem services provided by re-introduced Bilbies including the increased soil carbon levels and water infiltration recorded within their foraging pits.

Long term monitoring sites have provided critical information on both fauna and flora recovery of in situ species and an insight into their threatening processes. More than 40 scientific papers, internal reports and theses and 25 conference presentations have been produced to date and Arid Recovery is committed to effective dissemination of information to landholders not just the scientific community. Publications in National Landcare Magazine and participation in local NRM fora ensure that the scientific information is transformed into easily digestible and practical land management applications.

Further directions. Arid Recovery is now researching ways to move beyond the fenced reserve through improved predator management and increasing the predator-awareness of threatened species. Another current and future direction is preventing overpopulation of reintroduced species within the reserve through the use of one way gates and predators. Arid Recovery has recently partnered with Bush Heritage to form the South Australian Rangelands Alliance (SARA) with both organisations aiming to restore the plants and animals in the arid zone.

Lessons learned. The partnership between industry, government, community and research institutions has been integral to the success of Arid Recovery. Each partner has brought skills, resources and expertise to the program and ensured a balance is achieved in ecological restoration activities.

The winning combination of solid on-ground works and adaptive management based on sound scientific research is the key to Arid Recovery’s success. By ensuring that effective monitoring is regularly conducted and reviewed, Arid Recovery staff are able to implement changes to reserve management effectively and quickly.

Another important lesson learned is that restoration does not happen on its own, it requires long hours of hard work from both staff and volunteers. Arid Recovery is indebted to the hundreds of people who have given up their time to shoot cats, trap rabbits, count birds, measure plants and most importantly erect fencing.

Stakeholders. Arid Recovery is a partnership between BHP Billiton, S.A. Department for Environment, University of Adelaide and the Friends of Arid Recovery. All four partners contribute funding and in kind contributions and have committed to long term support for the program.

Contact. Please contact Arid Recovery for more information on :  (08) 8671 2402 or www.aridrecovery.org

See also: One-way gates: Initial trial of a potential tool for preventing overpopulation within fenced reserves

Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park, South Australia

Mark Bachmann

Key words: wetland restoration, Ramsar, rising springs, drainage, hydrology

Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park is situated 30 km south east of Mt Gambier in South Australia. For 15-20 years after the park was proclaimed in 1969, there was considerable local interest in trying to address previous changes that had been made to the hydrology of the wetland system.

Although it was protected, reserved and supporting a diverse suite of habitats and range of resident threatened species, Piccaninnnie Ponds was far from intact from a hydrological perspective. Prior to European settlement, water that discharged from the karst, rising-spring wetlands in the system flowed eastward across the State border into the Glenelg River Estuary, in far South West Victoria.

This is how the system remained until 1906, when the first of several attempts to drain the wetlands of Piccaninnie Ponds directly to the sea occurred. What ensued was a turbulent 9 year period during which the fishermen successfully lobbied to have the creek re-directed to the Glenelg River in 1915; a step which was ultimately unpopular with affected landholders and resulted in an alternative flow path again being cut to the sea two years later in 1917. Subsequent ad hoc drainage and development of portions of the wetland system continued and by the time the Piccaninnie Ponds Conservatioon Park was proclaimed in 1969, a new main artificial outlet drained the ponds directly to the sea.

The first attempts at advocacy to restore environmental flows to the Glenelg River in the 1970s and 80s to counter this long-term drying trend in the Park were unsuccessful, until the concept was revisited and a series of steps undertaken, starting in 2001, to achieve hydrological restoration. These steps culminated in the following actions.

 Fig. 1 – Stage 1 weir and fishway under construction in 2006.

Fig. 1,  Stage 1 weir and fishway under construction in 2006.

Actions taken to correct hydrology

  1. 2006 – Stage 1 weir and fishway constructed at Piccaninnie Ponds (Figure 1) regulated outflows on the artificial outlet. This had the effect of increasing inundation in a small area immediately upstream of the structure, under the direct influence of the weir pool created by the new structure, as shown in Fig 2.
  2. 2013 – The stage 2 weir and fishway upgrade (Fig 3) resulted in the structure height being lifted to increase future management flexibility, including providing the future ability to completely block outflows, should the option of re-instating the original flow path one day become a reality.

The stage 2 upgrade was completed at the same time as providing a new flow path to physically reconnect the isolated eastern and western basins at Piccaninnie Ponds. These wetlands had been separated for several decades by a combination of lower water levels, sand drift and the impact of the Piccaninnie Ponds Road. An aerial photographic view of the new flow path is shown in Fig 4.

These works within the original Conservation Park, have occurred in in a complementary way with those that have occurred in the neighbouring, newly reserved area at Pick Swamp, each contributing to the wider vision for restoration of this wetland complex.

Fig. 2. Drained condition of habitat in 2006

Fig. 2a. Drained condition of habitat upstream of the Stage 1 weir (prior to construction  in 2006).

Fig. 3. The upstream inundation and habitat change caused by the stage 1 weir, 2012.

Fig. 2b. The upstream inundation and habitat change caused by the stage 1 weir, 2012.

Results to date.

  • Increase in quality and area of available habitat for native freshwater fish, including the nationally threatened Dwarf Galaxias (Galaxiellla pusilla)
  • Protection of hydrological processes that support a wide range of other threatened species, from a number of taxonomic groups
  • A positive trajectory of change in the distribution of wetland habitats in the vicinity of the works (increased aquatic habitat and reversal of a drying trend that was causing terrestrialisation of vegetation communities)
  • Re-establishment of connectivity between the western and eastern wetlands in the Park for the first time in several decades
Figure 4 – The lifted and redesigned stage 2 weir and fishway on the main artificial outlet at Piccaninnie Ponds – upon completion in 2013.

Fig. 3. The lifted and redesigned stage 2 weir and fishway on the main artificial outlet at Piccaninnie Ponds – upon completion in 2013.

Fig 5a. Piccaninnie

Fig. 4a. Before works – in January 2003

Figure 5 – TOP – Before works image: January 2003. BOTTOM – Post-construction/restoration image: January 2014.

Fig, 4b. After construction/restoration – in January 2014.

Future directions. The works and outcomes described here were delivered by staff working for the South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR)

  • Ongoing management of the works and associated ecological monitoring in Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park is managed by DEWNR
  • Nature Glenelg Trust staff continue to provide specialist ecological advice and monitoring for the site when required by the site manager, DEWNR

Acknowledgements. The outcomes of the restoration project described can be attributed to a wide range of people who, in addition to the author (see current contact details below), worked at the South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources during the period described. DEWNR project ecologists overseeing the works described here include Ben Taylor (stage 1 weir) and Steve Clarke (stage 2 weir and associated works).

The project was generously funded and supported by a range of different grants and programs administered by the South Australian Government, Australian Government and the South East Natural Resources Management Board.

Contact. Mark Bachmann. Nature Glenelg Trust, PO Box 2177, Mt Gambier, SA 5290 Australia; Tel +61 (0)8 8797 8181; Mob+61 (0) 421 97 8181; Email: mark.bachmann@natureglenelg.org.au Web| www.natureglenelg.org.au

See also:

Bradys Swamp EMR short summary

Long Swamp EMR short summary

Victorian Northern Plains Grasslands Protected Area Network: formation and future management

Nathan Wong

Key words: ecosystem decline, conservation planning, grassland restoration, threatened species

Building the network. Since the early 1990s Trust for Nature (Victoria) (TfN) in partnership with State and Federal government agencies and local land owners have been working to protect, restore and improve the condition and extent of Grasslands in the Victorian Riverina. This critically endangered ecosystem has been degraded, fragmented, and cleared over the past 200 years by a range of impacts largely associated with the exploitation of these areas for agricultural production. This use has resulted in the loss of over 95% of the original grassland extent in Victoria and the degradation of all remaining remnants.

The first major achievement of this program occurred in June 1997 when Trust for Nature acquired the 1277 ha ‘Davies’ property following many years of negotiations. This land was transferred to the Crown in April 1999 to form the Grassland section of what is now Terrick Terrick National Park. Since this initial acquisition a significant number of purchases have been added to the public estate with the support of both State and Federal National Reserve Systems Programs. These additions have resulted in Terrick Terrick National Park now covering over 3334ha (Table 1) and the establishment of Bael Bael Grasslands NCR during 2010 and 2011 which now covers 3119ha.

Running concurrently with this increase in the public estate has been a program to build and secure private land under conservation covenant as well as Trust for Nature establishing a number of reserves to build its private reserve network in the Victorian Riverina. These efforts have resulted in the addition of 2804ha owned by Trust for Nature, including Glassons Grassland Reserve (2001), Kinypanial (1999), Korrak Korrak (2001), Wanderers Plain (2009-2010) and 1036ha of private land protected under conservation covenant.

As a result of these efforts the area of grasslands within the Protected Area Network in the Victorian Riverine Plains has grown from virtually nothing in the mid-1990s, to in excess of 10,000ha and continues to expand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fig 1. Very high quality Northern Plains Grasslands in Spring, note the inter-tussock spaces and diversity of flowering herbs (Photo: Nathan Wong).

Table 1. Acquisitions that have resulted in Terrick Terrick National Park, now covering over 3334ha.

Table 1

Current remnant condition. Whilst these grasslands are the best examples of the remaining ecosystem and protected under State and Federal government legislation, all of them have been degraded by past land-use. Therefore the need to not only protect but restore them is critical to the successful management of these systems in-perpetuity. Despite this past loss of a range of grazing-sensitive plant species many still persist in small isolated populations across the reserve network. Management of grazing, when it is applied, to ensure that continued losses do not occur whilst maintaining biodiversity values is one of the key aims of management. As a result of loss of quality, quantity and fragmentation of habitats, a range of important faunal species have also historically declined (Figs 2 & 3).

Need for management and restoration. There is great potential for management regimes to manipulate the composition of grasslands to enhance the likelihood of restoration success. Restoration of a range of grazing sensitive plant species which now either regionally extinct or remain in small isolated population will almost certainly require changes to grazing regimes, reintroduction of fire regimes and species reintroductions to ensure viable populations. Reintroducing faunal species will also require attention to connectivity and habitat availability issues in this context as many are dependent on the existence of large, interconnected territories e.g. Hooded Scaly-foot (Pygopus schraderi).

The Northern Plains Grasslands Protected Area Network: Strategic Operational Plan (SOP) is a landscape-scale strategic operational plan for the conservation management of the Northern Plains Grassland community within Victoria’s Protected Area Network, developed by the Northern Plains Technical Advisory Group in 2011. This Operational Plan now guides TfN and Parks Victoria in the implementation of an adaptive management plan for the landscape. This plan aims to establish and implement a restoration program across the public and private protected areas and is a marked shift from the previous management intent of maintenance of the system.

Fig 2. The area, particularly the Patho Plains and Lower Avoca, provide important habitat for the persistence of the Plains-wanderer (Photo David Baker-Gabb).

Fig 2. The northern plains grasslands, particularly the Patho Plains and Lower Avoca, provide important habitat for the persistence of the Plains-wanderer (Photo David Baker-Gabb).

Strategies for management and restoration. There are two main strategies that are being implemented. The first involves the extension of protected areas through a range of mechanisms; and the second involves active management to restore habitat quality and diversity to the extent possible.

Extent. Expansion of the current approach of reserve acquisition and covenanting that has been undertaken by the range of partners is likely to able to target and establish large areas (20,000+ ha) in the Lower Avoca and Patho Plains landscape. Both these areas are high priorities for Trust for Nature and form significant sections of the Trust for Nature’s Western Riverina Focal Landscape. The Patho Plains is significant as it is an Important Bird Area and a focus of Birdlife Australia to ensure the long term persistence of the Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus). The Lower Avoca also provides important habitat for the Plains-wanderer (Draft National Recovery Plan) and is one of the main population centres for Hooded Scaly-foot in Victoria.

Diversity. The increase of diversity and quality of these systems requires direct intervention in management as well as the introduction and establishment of the many rare and regionally extinct species from the system.

Plant species: Over the past decade, TfN and others have successfully trialled the reintroduction of a number of threatened and common plant species through hand sowing seed into grasslands. These species include: Hoary Sunray (Leucochrysum molle), Leafless Bluebush (Mairena aphylla), Rohlarch’s Bluebush (Maireana rohlarchii), Bladder Saltbush (Atriplex vesicaria), Plains Everlasting (Chrysocephalum sp. 1), Beauty Buttons (Leptorhynchos tetrachaetus), Small-flower Goodenia (Goodenia pusilliflora), Minnie Daisy (Minuria leptophylla) and a range of Wallaby species (Rytidosperma spp.) and Spear Grasses (Austrostipa spp.).

Animal species: Local habitat variability for a range of fauna has been achieved through the modification of grazing regimes and the introduction of burning regimes at a range of sites. This work aims to maximise niches and thus opportunities for a broad range of species.

Fig 3. Hooded Scaly-foot adult by Geoff BrownCOMP

Fig 3. Hooded Scaly-foot adult, a critically endangered legless lizard that occurs in the Northern Plains Grasslands, preferring habitat much like the Plains-wanderer. Photo: Geoff Brown.

Table 2.  Triggers required for various grazing and other management regimes to maintain appropriate intertussock spaces in Northern Plains Grasslands

Table2

Monitoring. The SOP includes a method for rapid assessment of habitat and functional composition of sites to support decision making and track habitat change over time. This is stratified by soil type as grazing and habitat values and floristic communities vary between soil types within the grassland mosaic. Triggers for action or management bounds have been set based on the structure of inter-tussock spaces on red soils. These have been established using the “Golf ball” method which calculates a golf ball score by randomly dropping 18 golf balls into a 1m x 1m quadrat and then establishing a count based on the visibility of the golf balls (>90% visible = 1, 90%-30% visible = 0.5, <30% visible = 0). For red soil grasslands the aim is to maintain the inter-tussock spacing within a golf ball range of 13-16 using the range of tools identified in Table 2. When a paddock reaches a golf ball score of 16 and it is being grazed, stock are to be removed. When the paddock reaches a score of 13 they are then to be reintroduced, within the bounds of the regime that is to be applied.

Additional to this there has also been collection of data in relation to the functional composition of sites with golf ball quadrats also assessed for the presence of a range of functional groups including Native C4 grasses, Native C3 Grasses, Exotic annual grasses, Exotic Perennial Grasses, Native forbs, Exotic Forbs, Native Shrubs, Moss cover, Other Crytptograms (i.e. Lichen, Algae, Liverworts), Bare Ground and Litter. At all these sites photos are also taken of each quadrat with and without golf balls and a landscape photo is also taken.

The capturing of these data and the region wide approach across both public and private areas will increase our knowledge of how to manage and restore these important sites as well as track progress of management actions and their effectiveness in providing protected areas for a range of threatened species.

Acknowledgements. A wide range of partners and individuals are involved in the protection of the Northern Plains Grassland and the development of the Northern Plains Strategic Operations Plan including Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning (DELWP), La Trobe University, Charles Sturt University, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, North Central Catchment Management Authority, Northern Plains Conservation Management Network, Elanus Consulting and Blue Devil Consulting.

Contact: Nathan Wong, Conservation Planning Advisor, Trust for Nature (Level 5, 379 Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia;Tel: +61 (0)3 8631 5888; Freecall: 1800 99 99 33; Mob 0458 965 329;Email: nathanw@tfn.org.au, www.trustfornature.org.au).

 

 

 

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.

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