Category Archives: Restoration & management theory

The rise of invasive ant eradications since the success of the Kakadu project  – UPDATE of EMR feature

Benjamin D Hoffmann

[Update of EMR feature – Hoffmann,  Benjamin D and Simon O’Connor (2004) Eradication of two exotic ants from Kakadu National Park. Ecological Management & Restoration, 5:2, 98-105. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2004.00182.x]

Key words. pest species management, invasive species, biosecurity

Figure 1. Kakadu staff in 2001 spreading formicide over a super-colony of African Big-headed Ant. This involved a team of people, aligned in a row, walking from one edge of the infested area to the other in parallel paths. (Photo courtesy of Simon O’Connor.)

Introduction. Invasive species management, especially eradications, has been at the forefront of biodiversity conservation gains over the past two decades. For example, over 1,200 invasive vertebrate eradications have been achieved on over 800 islands worldwide and the conservation benefits of such actions have been overwhelmingly positive and often dramatic. Efforts against invasive ants have also been particularly notable over the past two decades, with ants now being the second-most eradicated taxa globally having been eradicated from more than 150 locations, with the largest eradication covering 8300 ha. Two decades ago there were only 12 confirmed ant eradications using modern baits with a combined area totalling a mere 12 ha.

As reported in our original EMR feature, the last treatments against two invasive ants in Kakadu National Park, northern Australia: The African Big-headed Ant (Pheidole megacephala) and the Tropical Fire Ant, (Solenopsis geminata) were conducted in 2003; and the ants were declared eradicated two years later (Hoffmann & O’Connor 2004). At the time this was a globally significant eradication, and the positive outcome was a partial catalyst for the creation of many other relatively small exotic ant eradication attempts around Australia, including against Tropical Fire Ant on Melville island, and African Big-headed Ant on Lord Howe Island. Incidentally, the work coincided with the approximate timeframe of when two other highly invasive ant species were first detected in Australia: Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA) (Solenopsis invicta), and Electric Ant (Wasmannia auropunctata), prompting the initiation of two massive national cost-shared eradication programs. One of these, the RIFA program, has become Australia’s second-most expensive eradication program at AUD $428 million as of at July 2019. Together, all of these actions put ants high on Australia’s biosecurity and environmental management radars, prompting the development of Australia’s Tramp Ant Threat Abatement Plan and yet even more eradication programs.

Figure 2. Ant bait being dispersed aerially by helicopter using an underslung spreader and side-mounted dispersers. (Photos Ben Hoffmann)

Further advancements in ant eradication programs.  As Australia’s eradication programs became more numerous and larger, it became apparent very quickly that the methodologies and technologies available were insufficient to achieve success in the increasingly challenging conditions being encountered. In response, over the next two decades, there has been an impressive range of advancements that significantly improved our capacity to manage and eradicate invasive ant incursions.

The biggest issue was that work needed to be conducted over such large or inaccessible areas that ground-based work (Fig 1) was not feasible. So, treatments quickly became aerial, using multiple helicopter-based delivery platforms (e.g. underslung buckets and side-mounted hoppers, Fig 2). Even so, there have been locations that are too remote, too small, or too difficult (ie cliffs) to treat using a helicopter. To meet this challenge, in just the last five years treatments have been conducted for the first time using drones, and there is a great focus now to improve the technology so that it becomes more cost effective and more autonomous (Fig 3). This is occurring at such a pace that just a few years ago drones could only operate for a few hours at most on battery power, and only carry a few kilograms. This year we will be using a drone with unlimited flying capacity (petrol driven) that can lift 70 kg per load.

Figure 3. The Fazer with side-mounted bait carriers that can lift up to 40kg of payload. This is soon to be superseded by a drone that can lift a 70k g payload. (Photo Ben Hoffmann)

Assessments for the presence of ants, either before or after treatments, was originally very time consuming, involving teams of people walking ground very slowly and often utilising thousands of attractive lures (Fig 4). At most, only small ant populations (about less than 20 ha) within good working environments (ie open landscapes) could be assessed using teams of people, and it took large amounts of time. It was found very quickly that detector dogs could be trained on the scent of each ant species, and a single dog could cover more than five times the area of a team of people in a single day with greater efficacy (Fig 5). There are now more than 20 detector dogs operating in Australia and New Zealand that have been trained on the scent of four ant species. But even a team of dogs cannot fully cover entire areas at the landscape-scale, such as is the case for the RIFA program, especially in areas with long grass or rugged terrain. One of the saving technologies for the RIFA program has been the development of a multi-spectral sensor and associated algorithms that can identify RIFA nests from imagery captured by remote sensing (Fig 6). This allows program staff to assess just a few identified point locations in a landscape rather than the entirety of landscapes, to determine RIFA presence or absence. The next envisaged step is the development of biosensors that can detect the odours of target ant species, just like detector dogs, and with time these will become small enough to be transported by small drones throughout landscapes to detect ants.

Figure 4. An area covered with hundreds of flags marking spoonfulls of catfood being used as lures to attract African big-headed ant to assess eradication success or failure. (Photo Ben Hoffmann)

Figure 5. An ant detector dog searching for the presence of Red imported fire ant. (Photo courtesy of The State of Queensland (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries 2010–2019))

Australia was caught particularly unprepared two decades ago when the two new exotic ant species were detected for the first time because there were no baits registered for their management in Australia, so legally there were no treatment products that could be used. Even with the implementation of Emergency Use Permits for some unregistered products, as well as the use of the few products that were available for other species, it was often found that individual products could not be used in particular circumstances, especially around water, within crops and on organic farms. Additionally, available baits often did not have high efficacy. With time many baits (comprised of combinations of an attractive food laced with an active constituent) have been formulated and tested providing a greater array of baits that can be used on any new incursion and in numerous settings. The most recent has been the development of hydrogel baits that essentially deliver a liquid product in a solid form.

Figure 6 a and b. Multi-spectral camera flown underneath a helicopter to detect Red imported fire ant nests. (Photos courtesy of The State of Queensland (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries) 2010–2019)

Among the numerous advances described already, possibly the greatest development is on the threshold of becoming a reality, in the form of genomic solutions for individual species. RNA interference, and gene-drive technology are rapidly being developed for a suite of economically important species, and ants are among the taxa that are highest on the priority list as targets for this research. At best, these genomic advances promise to provide species-specific solutions, thereby alleviating the current non-target issues of using toxicants.

Conclusion. Our ability to eradicate ants has improved dramatically over the past two decades, with technologies and methodologies available now that were as yet not thought of back when our work was conducted in Kakadu National Park. New programs are constantly arising, and forging ahead in increasingly challenging situations, and a great deal of effort is placed in information-sharing among programs. Simultaneously there is a sustained focus to improve biosecurity at Australia’s borders, as well as throughout our region to help prevent the need for eradications in the first place.

Contact. Ben Hoffmann, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO Health & Biosecurity (PMB 44 Winnellie NT 0822 Australia; Tel: +61 8 89448432; Email: Ben.Hoffmann@csiro.au).

Butterfly population persists 10 years after emergency habitat restoration and translocation – UPDATE to EMR feature

[Update to 2008 EMR feature  –  Raymond Mjadwesch and Simon Nally (2008) Emergency relocation of a Purple Copper Butterfly colony during roadworks: Successes and lessons learned. Ecological Management & Restoration,  9:2, 100-109.   https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2008.00400.x]

By Simon Nally and Raymond Mjadwesch

Fig 1.  The endangered Purple Copper Butterfly (Paralucia spinifera) (Photo Raymond Mjadwesch)

Key wordsParalucia spinifera, Purple Copper Butterfly, reintroduction, invertebrate, threatened species.

Introduction: As reported in the original EMR feature, the unintended destruction of the habitat of a population of the endangered Purple Copper Butterfly (Paralucia spinifera, Fig 1) north of Lithgow, Australia in 2004, precipitated a bold, innovative, and rapid emergency program of habitat restoration and butterfly larvae translocation.

A stand of the butterfly’s larval host plants, Blackthorn (Bursaria spinosa subsp. lasiophylla), had been largely destroyed to enable road construction (Fig 2a). The butterflies had commenced emerging from their nearly nine-month-long pupation in the attendant ant’s (Anonychomyrma itinerans) underground nests to find an absence of host plants.

Construction work ceased immediately, and supplementary Blackthorn plants were planted throughout the area of predicted butterfly emergence. The Blackthorn were planted in their pots, to allow for later removal and replanting in the area where the habitat was being restored.  The Blackthorn were sugar-baited to attract the attendant ant as the ant was assumed to affect the male butterfly’s selection of home ranges, and ultimately, egg-laying on these larval host plants. Concurrently with the provision of Blackthorn for egg-laying, an adjoining degraded area of potential habitat was treated for infestations of woody weeds and growth of emergent Eucalyptus trees that excluded Blackthorn or blocked sunlight, precluding its suitability for occupation by the species.  Once weeds were controlled, Blackthorn was established in this area using tube-stock planting.

Attendant ants were enticed to all the Blackthorn introduced to the site, male butterflies established territories and were successful at attracting females with whom to mate, and these females laid eggs on the Blackthorn. The project partners were relieved at these initial results! However, as much of the site was to be permanently destroyed due to road construction, this temporarily reprieved population had to be translocated.

Over 12 nights, 1,260 of the facultatively nocturnal larvae were collected (along with any associated attendant ants) as they emerged to feed on Blackthorn leaves and translocated to the newly created habitat established on an adjacent restoration area (Fig 2b). Each translocated larva was monitored until it was attended by ants (again attracted to the recipient habitat using a sugar bait). Further monitoring continued to confirm continued growth of larvae until pupation was assumed to occur.

The duration of the emergency habitat restoration and translocation activities from first discovery of the habitat destruction to the assumed pupation of the translocated larvae in the newly established habitat (Fig 3) was less than five months.

After the autumn and winter pupation period, the project partners were delighted to find butterflies emerging, mating, and laying eggs on the remaining restored habitat, one year after the initial habitat destruction was first detected. Monitoring of larval numbers during 2005-2008, which involved systematic nocturnal inspection of all Blackthorn plants at the site, indicated that the population was secure and had grown after an initial reduction in calculated numbers in the first year after translocation.

Figure 2a. 2004 – The site as found showing the extent of habitat destruction (when the butterfly and habitat loss was initially detected). (Photo Raymond Mjadwesch)

Figure 2b. 2005 – Larvae from yellow-delineated area were translocated (after temporary introduction) into the blue-delineated area and bushland further right. (Photo Raymond Mjadwesch)

Monitoring update: In 2013 and 2015 monitoring reverted to an area search method, counting flying butterflies – a technique routinely used to indicate butterfly distribution / areas of activity at each of the other known populations. In 2015, ten years after the emergency translocation and habitat restoration, 48 butterflies were observed in the restored habitat, the second highest number recorded for this site.

Note that the results of monitoring counts can vary with date of survey relative to the flying period, time of day, and weather conditions on the day, and represent an indicator of presence and activity rather than a measure of absolute abundance. During some years multiple monitoring events occurred; in 2013 and 2015 there was only a single monitoring count.

There have been no further nocturnal larvae counts since the culmination of the project.

A 2019 site assessment identified the need for further woody weed maintenance works (which has been ongoing in the interim, funded by the LLS) to avoid potential degradation of the habitat quality due to competition with and shading of the host plant, Blackthorn.  Longer term maintenance of this site may require active management to ensure persistence of Blackthorn either through burning or mechanical damage to Blackthorn to promote re-sprouting from the rootstock and juvenile leaf production. Juvenile leaves lack the hairy indumentum present on the lower surfaces of intermediate and adult Blackthorn leaves, and have been observed to be preferentially skeletonized by early-instar larvae.

The 2019 site inspection also revealed that powerline easement works had resulted in weedicide spraying of eucalypt (Eucalyptus ssp.) saplings throughout the restored habitat, with Blackthorn plants and other native plant species affected.

Figure 3a – the site in 2005, after restoration works were complete, showing the initial flush of pioneer species after soil disturbance and restoration. (Photo Raymond Mjadwesch)

Figure 3b – the site in 2019 showing the final shrubby understory of sedges and shrubs (including scattered Blackthorn) typical of the locally native open forest community. (Photo Raymond Mjadwesch)

Lessons learned and future directions: Several factors contributed to the success of the habitat restoration and translocation program, some of which were of notable serendipity. It was extremely fortunate that the species was detected within the affected area (after the initial survey of the site had failed to detect habitat for the species); that Blackthorn tube-stock (upon which the restoration relied) was available; that an area considered likely to support Purple Copper Butterfly suitable for rehabilitation lay adjacent to the affected area; and that the timing of the damage in the annual lifecycle of the species allowed the partners to work with the opportunity to establish larval food plants  when it was required.

However, we believe that it was human factors that fundamentally combined to create the environment for success:

  • the commitment of the NSW Roads and Maritime Services (then the RTA) to immediately and fully support restoration works to ameliorate the damage and maximize the chances of the population surviving in the long term, including changing the design of the works to reduce the extent of permanent damage, and the funding of the restoration, translocation, and monitoring activities.
  • the project partners, including the authors, the RTA, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers, and Lithgow LandCare unified in collaboration, ceasing other activities to direct all necessary effort to maximize chances of success.
  • the quick, resourceful and bold action to trial and implement innovative techniques that were risky and speculative, such as luring attendant ants to planted Blackthorn using sugar, trial translocating attendant ants, and translocating larvae.
  • that there had been sufficient field observations to  predict the likely behavior of butterflies and larvae and to predict the likely response of the species’ habitat to management intervention.

We encourage restoration practitioners to immerse themselves in the environments they intend to manipulate, and ponder on the behavior, function, and interactions between each element of the ecosystem before them. When choosing to act – to intervene – to manipulate, do so sensitively to what you both know and feel that you have learned in the field, and act decisively, quickly, and boldly. Most importantly, corral a team of partners who believe in the endeavor and who fully commit their support to each other for a common restoration objective.

Endnote: In September 2019, an unplanned fire burnt much of the site. Given the monitoring data available for this site, further monitoring to study the effect of fire on the species and its habitat is being considered.

 Stakeholders and Funding bodies:   NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (now NSW Roads and Maritime), NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (now NSW Office of Environment and Heritage), Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers, Lithgow LandCare, Australian Government Department of Environment and Energy

Contact information: Simon Nally, 8 Gurney Place PAGE ACT, Australia, Tel: +61 407870234, Email: suseandsimon@bigpond.com. Ray Mjadwesch, Mjadwesch Environmental Service and Support, 26 Keppel Street, Bathurst, NSW 2795 Australia, Tel: +61 423949789, Email:  ray@mjadweschenvironmental.com.au

Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve Habitat Restoration Project at Gordon, 2000 – 2019 UPDATE of EMR feature

Nancy Pallin

[Update to EMR feature –  Pallin, Nancy (2001) Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve Habitat restoration project, 15 years on.  Ecological Management & Restoration 1:1, 10-20. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1442-8903.2000.00003.x]

Key words:         bush regeneration, community engagement, wallaby browsing, heat events, climate change

Figure 1. Habitat restoration areas at Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve within the urban area of Gordon, showing areas treated during the various phases of the project. Post-2000 works included follow up in all zones, the new acquisition area, the pile burn site, the ecological hot burn site and sites where vines have been targeted. (Map provided by Ku-ring-gai Council.)

Introduction. The aim of this habitat restoration project remains to provide self-perpetuating indigenous roosting habitat for Grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) located at Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve in Gordon, NSW Australia (Fig 1).  The secondary aim was to retain the diversity of fauna and flora within the Flying-fox Reserve managed by Ku-ring-gai Council. Prior to works, weed vines and the activity of flying-foxes in the trees had damaged the canopy trees while dense weed beneath prevented germination and growth of replacement trees.  Without intervention the forest was unable to recover.  Natural regeneration was assisted by works carried out by Bushcare volunteers and Council’s contract bush regeneration team.  The work involved weed removal, pile burns and planting of additional canopy trees including Sydney Bluegum (Eucalyptus saligna), which was expected to cope better with the increased nutrients brought in by flying-foxes.

Figure 2. The changing extent of the Grey-headed Flying-fox camp from the start of the project, including updates since 2000. (Data provided by KBCS and Ku-ring-gai Council)

Significant changes have occurred for flying-foxes and in the Reserve in the last 20 years.

In 2001 Grey-headed Flying-fox was added to the threatened species lists, of both NSW and Commonwealth legislation, in the Vulnerable category.  Monthly monitoring of the number of flying-foxes occupying the Reserve  has continued monthly since 1994 and, along with mapping of the extent of the camp, is recorded on Ku-ring-gai Council’s Geographical Information System. Quarterly population estimates contribute to the National Monitoring Program to estimate the population of Grey-headed Flying-fox.  In terms of results of the monitoring, the trend in the fly-out counts at Gordon shows a slight decline.  Since the extreme weather event in 2010, more camps have formed in the Sydney basin in response to declining food resources.

In 2007, prompted by Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society (KBCS), the size of the Reserve was increased by 4.3 ha by NSW Government acquisition and transfer to Council of privately owned bushland. The Voluntary Conservation Agreement that had previously established over the whole reserve in 1998 was then extended to cover the new area.   These conservation measures have avoided new development projecting into the valley.

From 2009 Grey-headed Flying-fox again shifted their camp northwards into a narrow gully between houses (Fig 2).  This led to human-wildlife conflict over noise and smell especially during the mating season. Council responded by updating the Reserve Management Plan to increase focus on the needs of adjoining residents.  Council removed and trimmed some trees which were very close to houses. In 2018 the NSW Government, through Local Governments, provided grants for home retrofitting such as double glazing, to help residents live more comfortably near flying-fox camps.

Heat stress has caused flying-fox deaths in the Reserve on five days since 2002. Deaths (358) recorded in 2013, almost all were juveniles of that year.  KBCS installed a weather station (Davis Instruments Vantage Pro Plus, connected through a Davis Vantage Connect 3G system) and data loggers to provide continuous recording of temperature and humidity within the camp and along Stoney Creek.  The station updates every 15 minutes and gives accurate information on conditions actually being experienced in the camp by the flying-foxes. The data is publicly available http://sydneybats.org.au/ku-ring-gai-flying-fox-reserve/weather-in-the-reserve/Following advice on the location and area of flying-fox roosting habitat and refuge areas on days of extremely high temperatures (Fig 3.) by specialist biologist Dr Peggy Eby, Council adopted the Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve 10 Year Management and Roosting Habitat Plan in 2018.  Restoration efforts are now focused on improving habitat along the lower valley slopes to encourage flying-foxes to move away from residential property and to increase their resilience to heat events which are predicted to increase with climate change.

Figure 3. Map showing the general distribution of flying-foxes during heat events, as well as the location of exclosures. (Map provided by Ku-ring-gai Council)

Further works undertaken.  By 2000 native ground covers and shrubs were replacing the weeds that had been removed by the regeneration teams and Bushcare volunteers.  However, from 2004, browsing by the Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) was preventing growth of young trees and shrubs.  Bushcare volunteers, supported by KBCS and Council responded by building tree cages made from plastic-mesh and wooden stakes. Reinforcing-steel rods replaced wooden stakes in 2008.   From 2011, the Bushcare volunteers experimented with building wallaby exclosures, to allow patches of shrubs and groundcovers to recover between trees (Figs 3 and 4).  Nineteen wallaby exclosures have been built. These range in size from 7m2 to 225m2 with a total area of 846m2.   Wire fencing panels (Mallee Mesh Sapling Guard 1200 x 1500mm) replaced plastic mesh in 2018.  Silt fence is used on the lower 0.5m to prevent reptiles being trapped and horizontally to deter Brush Turkey (‎Alectura lathami) from digging under the fence.

The wallaby exclosures have also provided an opportunity to improve moisture retention at ground level to help protect the Grey-headed Flying-fox during heat events.  While weed is controlled in the exclosures south of Stoney Creek, those north of the creek retain Trad and privets, consistent with the 10 Year Management and Roosting Habitat Plan.

Madeira Vine (Anredera cordifolia) remained a threat to canopy trees along Stoney Creek for some years after 2000, despite early treatments.  The contract bush regen team employed sInce 2010 targeted 21 Madiera Vine incursions.

A very hot ecological burn was undertaken in 2017 by Council in order to stimulate germination of soil stored seed and regenerate the Plant Community Type (PCT) – Smooth-barked Apple-Turpentine-Blackbutt tall open forest on enriched sandstone slopes and gullies of the Sydney region (PCT 1841).  This area was subsequently fenced. The contract bush regeneration team was also employed for this work to maintain and monitor the regeneration in the eco-burn area (720 hours per year for both the fire and Madiera Vine combined).

Figure 4. Exclusion fence construction method. Pictured are Bushcare volunteers, Jill Green and Pierre Vignal. (Photo N Pallin).

Figure 5. Natural regeneration in 2018 in (unburnt) exclosure S-6 (including germination of Turpentines). (Photo N. Pallin)

Further results to date. The original canopy trees in Phase 1 and Phase 2 (1987 -1997) areas have recovered and canopy gaps are now mostly closed. Circumference at breast height measurements were taken for seven planted Sydney Blue gum trees.  These ranged from 710 to 1410mm with estimated canopy spread from 2 to 6m.  While original Turpentine (Syncarpia glomulifera) had circumferences from 1070 and 2350mm with canopy spread estimated between 5and 8m, those planted or naturally germinated now have circumference measurements between 420 and 980mm with canopy spread estimated from 1.5 to 3m.  A Red Ash (Alphitonia excelsa) which naturally germinated after initial clearing of weeds now has a circumference of 1250mm with a canopy spread of 5m.  Also three Pigeonberry Ash (Elaeocarpus kirtonii) have circumference from 265 to 405mm with small canopies of 1 to 2m as they are under the canopies of large, old Turpentines.  As predicted by Robin Buchanan in 1985 few Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis) juveniles survived while the original large old trees have recovered and the Sydney Bluegum trees have thrived.

In the Phase 3 (1998 – 2000) area south of Stoney Creek the planted Sydney Blue Gum now have circumferences measuring between 368 and 743 (n7) with canopy spread between 2 and 6 m.  in this area the original large trees have girths between 1125 and 1770mm (n7) whereas trees which either germinated naturally or were planted now range from 130 to 678mm (n12).  These measurement samples show that it takes many decades for trees to reach their full size and be able to support a flying-fox camp.

Wallaby exclosures constructed since 2013 south of Stoney Creek contain both planted and regenerated species.  Eight tree species, 11 midstorey species, 27 understorey species and eight vines have naturally regenerated.  Turpentines grew slowly, reaching 1.5m in 4 years.  Blackbutts thrived initially but have since died. In exclosures north of the creek,  weeds including Large-leaved Privet,  Ligustrum lucidum,  Small-leaved privet,  L. sinense,  Lantana, Lantana camara,  and Trad, Tradescantia fluminensis) have been allow to persist and develop to maximise ground moisture levels for flying-foxes during heat events. Outside the exclosures, as wallabies have grazed and browsed natives, the forest has gradually lost its lower structural layers, a difference very evident in Fig 6.

Figure 6. Visible difference in density and height of ground cover north and south of Stoney creek. (Photo P. Vignal)

Coachwood (Ceratopetalum apetalum) were densely planted in a 3 x 15m exclosure under the canopies of mature Coachwood next to Stoney Creek in 2015. In 4 years they have reached 1.5m.  In this moist site native groundcovers are developing a dense, moist ground cover.

Madiera Vine, the highest-threat weed, is now largely confined to degraded edges of the reserve, where strategic consolidation is being implemented with a view to total eradication.

In the hot burn area, which was both fenced and weeded, recruitment has been outstanding. One 20 x 20m quadrat recorded 58 native species regenerating where previously 16 main weed species and only 6 native species were present above ground. A total of 20 saplings and 43 seedlings of canopy species including Eucalyptus spp., Turpentine and Coachwood were recorded in this quadrat where the treatment involved weed removal, burning and fencing  (S. Brown, Ku-ring-gai Council, July 2019, unpublished data).  Unfortunately, however, the timing and location of the burn did not take into account its impact on the flying-fox camp and there was some damage to existing canopy trees. It will be many years before the canopy trees, which are regenerating, will be strong enough to support flying-foxes.

Monitoring from the weather station and data loggers has shown that close to Stoney Creek on a hot day it is typically 2-3° C cooler, and 5-10% higher in humidity, than in the current camp area (pers. comm. Tim Pearson). During heat events the flying-foxes move to this cooler and moister zone, increasing their chances of survival.

Fauna observed other than flying-foxes includes a pair of Wedge-tail Eagle ( Aquila audax plus their juvenile, a nesting Grey Goshawk (Accipiter novaehollandiae) and a Pacific Baza (Aviceda subcristata).  Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) individuals continue to use the valley. The presence of raptors and owls indicate that the ecosystem processes appear to be functional. Despite the decline of the shrub layer outside fenced areas, the same range of small bird species (as seen prior to 2000) are still seen including migrants such as Rufous Fantail ( Rhipidura rufifrons) which prefers dense, shady vegetation. The first sighting of a Noisy Pitta (Pitta versicolor) was in 2014.  Long-nosed Bandicoot (Perameles nasuta) individuals appear and disappear, while Swamp Wallaby remains plentiful.

Lessons learned and future directions. Climate change is an increasing threat to Pteropus species. On the advice of Dr Eby, Flying-fox Consultant, Council, KBCS and Bushcare Volunteers agreed to retain all vegetation including weeds such as Large-leaved Privet and Small-leaved Privet, patches of the shrub Ochna (Ochna serrulata) and Trad as a moist ground cover in the camp area and areas used by the flying-foxes during heat events.

Building cheap, lightweight fencing can be effective against wallaby impacts, provided it is regularly inspected and repaired after damage caused by falling branches. This style of fencing has the additional advantage of being removable and reusable.  It has been proposed that, to provide understory vegetation to fuel future burns in parts of the reserve away from the flying-fox camp, further such temporary fencing could be installed.

Ku-ring-gai Council has commenced a  program to install permanent monitoring points to annually record changes in the vegetation, consistent with the state-based  Biodiversity Assessment Method.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies. Members of KBCS make donations, volunteer for monthly flyout counts, Bushcare and present educational events with live flying-foxes. KBCS hosts the website www.sydneybats.org.au. Ku-ring-gai Council which is responsible for the Reserve has been active in improving management to benefit both residents and flying-foxes.  Ku-ring-gai Environmental Levy Grants to KBCS have contributed substantially to purchase of fencing materials and the weather station. http://www.kmc.nsw.gov.au/About_Ku-ring-gai/Land_and_surrounds/Local_wildlife/Native_species_profiles/Grey-headed_flying-fox

Thank you to Jacob Sife and Chelsea Hankin at Ku-ring-gai Council for preparing the maps and to volunteer Pierre Vignal for assistance with tree measurements, downloading data loggers and a photo.  Researcher,  Tim Pearson installed the weather station.

Contact information. Nancy Pallin, Management Committee member, Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society Inc.  PO Box 607, Gordon 2072  Tel 61 418748109. Email:  pallinnancy@gmail.com

Is revegetation in the Sheep Pen Creek area, Victoria, improving Grey-crowned Babbler habitat? – UPDATE of EMR feature

Doug Robinson

[Update of EMR feature Robinson, Doug (2006) Is revegetation in the Sheep Pen Creek area, Victoria, improving Grey‐crowned Babbler habitat?  Ecological Management & Restoration, 7:2, 93-104.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2006.00263.x]

Key words: (<5 words): Monitoring, restoration, population ecology, woodland conservation

Figure 1. Location of babbler project works and other landcare works implemented since 1996 in the Sheep Pen Creek Land Management Group area and the two sub-districts used for the babbler study. (Source TFNVic)

Introduction: The Grey-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus temporalis) (babbler) is a threatened woodland bird (classified as Endangered in the state of Victoria) that has declined substantially in overall distribution and abundance across much of its former range in southeastern Australia since European settlement.  Sheep Pen Creek Land Management Group area, in northern Victoria (Fig 1), was fortuitously the location of the largest known remaining babbler population in Victoria in the early 1990s (when this project began); and the focus of extensive land restoration programs from the 1980s onwards to help mitigate the impacts of erosion and dryland salinity, as well as biodiversity decline.  The original study, published in 2006, investigated the overall changes in tree cover across the district between 1971 and 1996 as a result of different land-management actions and responses of local babbler populations to those habitat changes.  The key finding was that in the Koonda sub-district which had a 5% overall increase in tree cover to 14% from 1971 to 2001, showed an increase in babbler numbers by about 30% (Table 1).   In the Tamleugh sub-district, tree cover increased by 1.3% to a total of 9%, with no change in babbler numbers.  The findings also showed that new babbler groups were preferentially colonizing new patches of vegetation established that suited their habitat needs.  Building on this research, the study concluded that future conservation programs needed to scale-up the extent of habitat restoration, target areas which were suitable for babbler colonization, and tailor incentive programs to assist with conservation of particular species.

Table 1. Changes in Grey-crowned Babbler numbers over time

Year Koonda Tamleugh
number of groups number of birds number of groups number of birds
1992 20 78 11 39
1993 20 89 10 34
1996 24 96 9 35
1997 24 102 8 30
1998 25 99 10 40
2000 26 97 10 43
2005 23 99 8 34

Further revegetation works undertaken. Since the initial study’s assessment of vegetation changes between 1971 and 1996, an additional 133 ha of vegetation has been restored or established as babbler habitat in Koonda district and 37 ha in the Tamleugh district (Figs 2 and 3, Table 2).  Extensive natural regeneration, supplemented by broadscale revegetation, has also occurred over more than 350 ha on five private conservation properties in the Koonda district,, contributing to substantial landscape change.  The wider landscape has also been identified as a statewide priority for nature conservation on private land, leading to increased conservation investment in permanent protection there by Victoria’s lead covenanting body – Trust for Nature.

Monitoring of outcomes: The monitoring that was carried out prior to the 2006 publication has not continued, leaving a knowledge gap as to how the population has fared in the context of the Millenium Drought and ongoing climate-change impacts. However, based on the original research’s initial findings, we conducted an experimental study with University of Melbourne to evaluate the effectiveness of habitat restoration in maintaining babbler survival. The study, published by Vesk and colleagues in 2015, compared the persistence and group size of babbler groups present in 1995 and subsequently in 2008 at a randomly selected set of stratified sites which had either had habitat works or none.  This study was conducted across a larger landscape of about 200,000 hectares which included Sheep Pen Creek Land Management Group area.  The study found that babbler group size decreased by about 15% over the 13 years at sites without restoration works.   At sites with restoration, average group size increased by about 22%, thereby effectively compensating for the overall reduction in numbers reported over that time.This increase also influenced subsequent demographic performance, with groups at restoration sites having higher breeding success and more fledglings than groups at control sites.

Another useful finding from this experimental study was the confirmation of the importance of particular habitat and landscape variables on babbler persistence.  In particular, abundance of large trees was a positive predictor of occupancy over time; and distance from the next nearest group was a negative predictor.

Figure 2. Changes in tree cover in the Koonda sub-district between 1971 (top),  and 2018 (bottom). (Source TFNVic).. (Source TFNVic)

Figure 3. Changes in tree cover in the Tamleugh sub-district between 1971 (top) and 2018 (bottom). (Source TFNVic)

Table 2.  Summary of additional habitat established or restored as part of the Sheep Pen Creek Grey-crowned Babbler project from 1996-2018, following the initial study period from 1971-1996.

District Number of sites Area (ha)
Koonda 62 133
Tamleugh 28   37
Other parts of landcare group and local babbler population area 29 103
Totals 119 273

Expansion of lessons to other districts: Building on the fundamental research conducted in Sheep Pen Creek Land Management Group area, similar habitat, landscape and babbler population assessments were subsequently undertaken in northwest Victoria near Kerang for the babbler populations found there.  Key results from these studies relevant to the initial Sheep Pen study were that the number of babbler groups in each sampled district was positively related to the proportion of woodland cover, especially the proportion of Black Box (Eucalyptus largiflorens) woodland habitat – the babblers’ preferred habitat in this region.  Conversely, the number of babbler groups was negatively associated with the proportion of land under intensive agriculture.  At the site scale, key positive predictors of babbler presence in Black Box habitat again included the abundance of large trees (> 60 cm dbh)

Lessons learned and future directions: The most valuable lesson learned since the initial paper was published was the power of the structured research project described above to evaluate the effectiveness of the babbler conservation program and inform future design and planning. The study further demonstrated the importance of taking a demographic approach to the species’ conservation needs, understanding what is happening across the whole population over time  and how habitat interventions can assist.  These lessons have since been applied usefully to other babbler projects  and more broadly to conservation of woodland birds.

The initial paper noted the importance of achieving landscape-scale change in vegetation extent, particularly in more fertile habitats. This has occurred to some extent within the Koonda district through a range of incentive programs, tender programs, covenanting programs and land purchase, but continues to achieve most gains on more infertile land. On fertile land, by contrast, there has been rapid land-use change to cropping over the past fifteen years, leading to reduced likelihood of those properties providing suitable habitat for babblers, as found in the study conducted in northwest Victoria.

The initial paper also suggested the benefit of developing tailored incentive programs for babblers and other threatened species with particular requirements to maximize potential conservation gains  and we suggest, based on Australian and overseas experiences,  that more specific incentive programs or more detailed criteria could assist.

Another important lesson learned was the difficulty in maintaining community-driven citizen-science monitoring, even with the best will in the world, without some over-arching organizational support and oversight.  We know that community monitoring for biodiversity conservation needs scientific input at the design and analysis stages; hence additional resources may also be required in terms of equipment or guidelines to help groups monitor effectively.  Modest government investments to conservation organisations with established biodiversity monitoring programs could usefully help address this issue.

Finally, the learnings from the Sheep Pen Creek Land Management babbler conservation project over nearly thirty years are that the landscape changes and that these changes are not always positive.  Land-use change is placing more pressure on  potential babbler habitat; and the eucalypt regrowth which was established and provided new nesting resources for a few years is now too tall to provide nesting habitat, but too dense and immature to provide suitable foraging habitat for another one hundred years.  Climate change is rapidly imposing constraints on the availability of food resources and breeding opportunities, exacerbated by increased competition for the same limited resources by exotic and native species.  For the Grey-crowned Babbler, the solution to all of these factors depends on ongoing commitment to the establishment or maintenance of their essential habitat needs and life-history requirements so that their life-cycle is provisioned for from generation to generation.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies:   Most of the targeted habitat works achieved for babblers in this landscape has occurred through funding support from the Australian government through its Natural Heritage Trust and Caring for our Country programs.  Broader habitat protection and restoration has occurred primarily with funding support to landholders from the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority (GBCMA).  The Norman Wettenhall Foundation, along with GBCMA, was instrumental in enabling the research by University of Melbourne, which was also aided by the extensive voluntary support of Friends of the Grey-crowned Babbler.  Not least, local landholders continued to support the project and continue to protect or restore parts of their properties to assist with babbler conservation.

Contact information: [Doug Robinson, Trust for Nature, 5/379 Collins Street Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia.  dougr@tfn.org.au, (03) 86315800 or 0408512441; and  School of Life Sciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia.

 

 

 

 

Monitoring the Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Plan, Kimberley, Western Australia – UPDATE of EMR feature

[Update to EMR feature: Moorcroft, Heather, Emma Ignjic, Stuart Cowell, John Goonack, Sylvester Mangolomara, Janet Oobagooma, Regina Karadada, Dianna Williams and Neil Waina (2012) Conservation planning in a cross‐cultural context: the Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Project in the Kimberley, Western Australia,  Ecological Management & Restoration, 13:1, 16-25. See https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00629.xk]

Key words: conservation planning, participatory conservation, Indigenous people, Kimberley

Figure 1. Location map of Wunambal Gaambera land and sea country. (Source: WGAC)

Introduction. The development of the Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Plan (HCP) was a key enabler for Wunambal Gaambera people to look after country (Fig 1) and occurred at an important time when native title rights to country were being secured. The plan came about through a partnership between Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) and Bush Heritage Australia (BHA), who brought the planning approach and supported WGAC to develop a plan that met the needs of Traditional Owners. This plan then became the basis of a long term partnership between the two organisations to support implementation.

Healthy Country Planning, a term coined by this project, adapted the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation (http://cmp-openstandards.org/ ) to an Indigenous native title community context. The approach has subsequently flourished in Australia, adopted by a further 30 indigenous groups ( see doi: 10.1111/emr.12267).

The unique partnership model established between BHA and WGAC, underpinned by Healthy Country Planning, has also expanded (https://www.bushheritage.org.au/what-we-do/aboriginal-partnerships). The program supports indigenous partners to achieve their community and conservation aspirations articulated through Healthy Country Planning.

Figure 2. Terrick Bin Sali handling a northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus). (Photo WGAC)

Conservation planning with a difference. Our experience has been that the Open Standards can be successfully applied to an Indigenous context but some important adaptation is required. For example:

  1. People, culture and country are inseparable in Australian indigenous worldviews. As such, Healthy Country Planning is much wider in scope than mainstream conservation or natural resource management planning. The vision in the HCP typically sets long-term goals that include aspirations for looking after country and achieving health conditions for landscapes, seascapes, plants and animals, as well as for people and culture (Figs 2-4). These outcomes are collectively referred to as “Healthy Country”. An indigenous plan will always recognize and value people in the landscape rather than as separate. Traditional Owners, and/or their culture, become a conservation target alongside species and habitats with ‘key cultural attributes’ established alongside ‘key ecological attributes’. HCPs also have a greater degree of management strategies that relate to people and culture than would be found in mainstream management plans, and culture and Indigenous Knowledge is incorporated into land management activities that could be considered mainstream, such as the inclusion of cultural rules within visitor management.
  2. The Open Standards include approaches and tools for stakeholder participation that lend themselves well to Indigenous peoples, however given that Indigenous lands are communally-owned and governed by unique law and culture systems, participation requirements are higher and more complex. Traditional systems of governance are often recognized under State and Federal Law (such as the Native Title Act) requiring additional process steps. In developing the HCP, WGAC undertook a process of involving all Traditional Owner families in various stages of planning and the plan was authorized at a Traditional Owner meeting.
  3. A Healthy Country Plan typically applies to the whole traditional estate of a Traditional Owner group regardless of tenure, consistent with the concept of “Country-based Planning”. WGAC initially dedicated stage I of the Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area over several aboriginal reserves in 2010, and later added exclusive possession lands following native title determination. The marine environment will also be added to the IPA once agreement is reached with State and Commonwealth Governments, as articulated in the Uunguu Wundaagu Plan.

Figure 3. Traditional Owners undertaking a ‘junba’ traditional dance workshop. (Photo: WGAC)

Monitoring & evaluation since 2012. Aspects of the monitoring and evaluation framework established by WGAC include the establishment of the Uunguu Monitoring & Evaluation Committee (UMEC) and the completion of mid-term evaluation of the HCP (see 2017 review doi:10.1111/emr.12257). The UMEC is composed of Traditional Owners and external experts who undertake key Healthy Country Planning steps and functions. A significant investment of time and money was required to support annual or biennial meetings “on country” (ie. on Wunambal Gaambera lands), however the review showed that the investment has proven worthwhile because WGAC has been able to implement the plan to a high degree.

In 2015 a major mid-term evaluation was undertaken to assess the progress of the HCP. It utilized some standard evaluation tools examining Open Standards process. It also incorporated some new approaches to include the views of the wider Traditional Owner community in the evaluation of the plan to ensure the plan was meeting their needs and following effective process with regard to governance and participation. The review made a number of observations as follows.

  1. Considerable progress had been made in the implementation of fire management strategies in the HCP to the point that the health condition of the “Right Way Fire” target was changed from ‘fair’ to ‘good’. Unmanaged wildfires have significantly reduced in size as a result of increased capabilities of the Uunguu Rangers to undertake burning. At the same time “right way” cultural principles have been incorporated into operations to ensure that Traditional Owner families are making decisions about burning and undertaking fire operations on their family areas.
  2. Significant progress has been made against a visitor management strategy. One of the key concerns of elders when developing the plan was unregulated visitation to important cultural sites by the expedition cruise industry and independent travelers. The Uunguu Visitor Pass, launched in 2017, requires visitors to obtain a permit to access authorized visitor locations as well as generating funds for looking after country. Over 90% of commercial tour operators have now registered for the UVP, with a similar independent traveler compliance, generating funds to support Traditional Owner participation in visitor management and delivering tour products.
  3. Progress was not made, however, in the health of cultural targets in the plan. As a result, the 2015 review recommended further investment and effort in culture strategies. Two important books have been completed to document elders’ knowledge of biodiversity and cultural places. There has been an increase in cultural activities including language and corroboree dance workshops and annual culture camps for school children. Law and culture dictates that visitors to country (indigenous or non-indigenous) need to be accompanied by the right local Traditional Owners when undertaking activities on country. In this way Healthy Country work supports large numbers of Traditional Owners to visit country and guide participation in the implementation of the plan. A number of actions have been undertaken to support Traditional Owners to live on country and remote ranger infrastructure has been developed.

Figure 4. Uunguu Rangers during a cultural fire walk. (Photo WGAC)

Future Directions. The first 8 years of the HCP implementation has focused on building WGAC’s land and sea management capacity and resources, with funding from WGAC,  the Australian Governments Indigenous Protected Area and Indigenous Ranger Programs and from Bush Heritage Australia. Traditional Owners currently hold certificate level roles of rangers, tourism workers and construction workers but further work is now needed to support Traditional Owners to take on roles that require higher levels of training. There is also a need to support the development of a wider range of livelihoods to support Traditional Owners to live and/or work on country.

Contact information. Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation, PMB 16 Kalumburu via Wyndham WA 6740, Australia.

Email: info@wunambalgaambera.org.au

Web: www.wunambalgaambera.org.au

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/uunguulife/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Developments in Big Scrub Rainforest Restoration: UPDATE of EMR feature

Tony Parkes, Mark Dunphy, Georgina Jones and Shannon Greenfields

[Update of EMR feature article: Parkes, Tony, Mike Delaney, Mark Dunphy, Ralph Woodford, Hank Bower, Sue Bower, Darren Bailey, Rosemary Joseph, John Nagle, Tim Roberts, Stephanie Lymburner, Jen Ford and Tein McDonald (2012) Big Scrub: A cleared landscape in transition back to forest? Ecological Management & Restoration 12:3, 212-223. https://doi.org/10.1111/emr.12008]

Key words: Lowland Subtropical Rainforest, ecological restoration, seed production, landholder action, corridors

Figure 1a. Rainforest regenerators undertake camphor injection, leaving bare trees standing creating light and an opportunity for seed in the soil to naturally regenerate. (Photo © Envite Environment)

Figure 1b Aerial photo showing camphor conversion by injection
(Photo © Big Scrub Regeneration Pty. Ltd.)

Introduction. The Big Scrub, on the NSW north coast, was once the largest tract of Lowland Subtropical Rainforest (LSR) in Australia. It was reduced to less than 1% of its original extent by he end of hte 19th century after clearing for agriculture. Big Scrub Landcare (BSL) is a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the long-term ecological functionality of what remains of this critically endangered ecosystem –  lowland subtropical rainforest.  Our 2012 EMR feature reported on remnant restoration and revegetation works overseen by BSL to 2012. At that time, 68 remnants were identified as significantly affected from the impacts of environmental degradation including weed invasion and cattle access. These remnants had been undergoing treatments, with 20 substantially recovered and on a ‘maintenance’ regime.  Approximately 900,000 trees had been planted to establish 250 ha of young diverse well-structured rainforest.  A comparatively small area of forest dominated by the highly invasive exotic, Camphor Laurel (Cinnamomum camphora) (Camphor), which  has colonised much of the Big Scrub landscape had been converted to early phase LSR by skilled removal of a range of weeds and facilitating natural regeneration. 

Progress since 2012. Substantial progress in restoring critically endangered lowland subtropical rainforest in the Big Scrub has been achieved over the past seven years in the following areas.

  • Assisted regeneration of remnants has continued and become more focused
  • Re-establishment of LSR through plantings has expanded
  • Camphor conversion has developed in scale and techniques
  • Greater security of funding has been achieved
  • Community engagement has greatly improved and expanded
  • Genome science is being applied to produce seed with optimal genetic diversity for rainforest restoration.

Assisted regeneration of remnants. This work continues to be the major focus of on-ground restoration work. About 2000 regenerator days (9 years Full Time Equivalent) of work has been undertaken in 45 remnants. BSL’s remnant restoration program has become more strategic, with more focus on Very High Conservation Value (VHCV) remnants, particularly those in the NSW National Parks Estate, including the VHCV sites in Nightcap National Park (NP) including Big Scrub Flora Reserve, Minyon Falls and Boomerang Falls; Andrew Johnston’s Scrub NR; Snow’s Gully Nature Reserve (NR); Boatharbour NR; Victoria Park NR and Davis Scrub NR, plus the Booyong Flora Reserve. Rehabilitation work at these sites is prioritised in the major new four-year Conservation Co-funding project funded jointly by BSL and the NSW government’s Saving our Species program. Big Scrub Foundation (BSF) funding has enabled BSL to continue maintenance work in remnants that have reached or are approaching the maintenance stage.

Monitoring outcomes has become more rigorous and has demonstrated ongoing improvements in vegetation structure, with decreasing levels of weed invasion and improvements in native species cover.

BSL’s partner Envite Environment, with some assistance from BSL, is creating an important linkage between Nightcap NP and Goonengerry NP by the restoration of rainforest through the progressive removal of weeds that had dominated the 80 ha Wompoo/Wanganui corridor between these two NPs.

 Re-establishment of rainforest by planting. The area of LSR is being re-established by planting on cleared land has also continued to expand.   In the last 7 years  more than 0.5 million rainforest trees have been planted in the Big Scrub region, contributing to the restoration of another 175 ha of LSR, expanding total area of re-established rainforest by another 13%. While landscape-scale landholder driven work is inevitably opportunistic rather than strategic, the establishment of new patches of LSR enhance valuable stepping-stone corridors across the Big Scrub. Since 2012 the number of regenerators working fulltime in the Big Scrub region has increased by approximately 50%.  Another trend that has strengthened in the last 7 years is that larger plantings are now being carried out by well-resourced landowners. This is accounting for about 40% of the annual plantings. Offsets for residential development account for another 40% of trees planted. The remaining 20% is made up by small landowners, cabinet timber plantations, large-scale landscaping, and other planting of Big Scrub species. This is a significant change from the more dominant grant-based small landowner/Landcare group plantings prior to 2012.

 Camphor conversion. Larger areas of Camphor forest are being converted to rainforest, with project areas increasing substantially from less than a hectare to ten and twenty hectares. BSL estimates that more than 150 ha of Camphor forest are currently under conversion. Some landowners underake camphor injection which leaves bare trees standing, creating light and an opportunity for existing native seedlings and seed in the soil (or seed dropped by perching birds) to naturally regenerate (Fig 1). Others are choosing the more expensive option of physically removing the Camphor trees and carefully leaving the rainforest regrowth (Fig 2).  Improved techniques and landholder capacity building continue to progress and camphor conversion is now a significant component of rainforest restoration.

BSL alone is facilitating the conversion of almost 40 ha of Camphor forest to LSR funded by two 3-year grants from the NSW Environmental Trust, together with contributions from the 19 landholders involved in these projects. The ecological outcomes being achieved are significant and less costly than revegetation via plantings.

Figure 2a. Camphor forest under conversion using heavy machinery leaving rainforest regrowth intact (Photo © Big Scrub Landcare)

Figure 2b. Aerial photo showing camphor conversion by removal
(Photo © Big Scrub Landcare)

Greater security of funding. Australian Government funding for biodiversity conservation is at a very low level. Competition for existing NSW state government funding is increasing. BSL therefore has continued to  develop new strategies for fund raising to ensure continuity of its long-term program for the ecological restoration of critically endangered LSR in the Big Scrub and elsewhere. Ongoing funding of at least $150,000 annually is needed to ensure the great progress made  over the past 20 years in rehabilitating remnants is  maintained and expanded to new areas of large remnants. These funds finance weed control and monitoring; weeds will always be a part of the landscape and an ongoing threat to our rainforest remnants.

Establishment of the Big Scrub Foundation in 2016 was a major development in BSL’s fund raising strategy. The Foundation received a donation of AUD $1M to establish a permanent endowment fund that is professionally invested to generate annual income that helps finance BSL’s remnant care program and its other activities. Generous donors are also enabling the Foundation to help finance the Science Saving Rainforest Program.

Figure 3a. Australian gardening celebrity Costa Gregoriou at a Big Scrub community tree planting (part of the 17th annual Big Scrub Rainforest Day) in 2015 (Photo © Big Scrub Landcare)

Figure 3b. Founder of the Australian Greens political party Bob Brown and Dr. Tony Parkes at the 18th annual Big Scrub Rainforest Day in 2016. (Photo © Big Scrub Landcare)

Community engagement. The  Big Scrub Rainforest Day continues to be BSL’s  major annual community engagement event, with the total number of attendees estimated to have exceeded 12,000 over the past 7 years; the 2016 day alone attracted more than 4000 people (Fig 3). Every second year the event is held at Rocky Creek Dam.  A new multi-event format involving many other organisations has been introduced on alternate years.

BSL’s Rainforest Restoration Manual has been updated in the recently published third edition and continues to inform and educate landowners, planners and practitioners.

BSL in partnership with Rous County Council produced a highly-commended book on the social and ecological values of the Big Scrub that has sold over 1000 copies. BSL’s website has had a major upgrade: its Facebook page is updated weekly; its e-newsletter is published every two months. BSL’s greatly improved use of social media is helping to raise its profile and contribute to generating donations from the community, local businesses and philanthropic organisations to fund its growing community education and engagement work and other activities.

Science saving rainforests program. BSL, the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, the BSF and their partners have commenced an internationally innovative program to apply the latest DNA sequencing and genome science to establish plantations to produce seed of key species with optimal genetic diversity for the ecological restoration of critically endangered lowland subtropical rainforest. This program will for the first time address the threat posed by fragmentation and isolation resulting from the extreme clearing of Australia’s LSR, which is estimated to have resulted in the destruction of 94% of this richly biodiverse Gondwana-descended rainforest.

Many  key  LSR species are trapped in small populations in  isolated remnants  that  lack the genetic diversity needed to adapt and survive in the long term, particularly faced with climate change Necessary  genetic diversity is also lacking in many key species in the 500 ha of planted and regrowth rainforest. The first stage of the program, already underway, involves collecting leaf samples from approximately 200 individual old growth trees in 35 remnant populations across the ranges of 19 key structural species of the ‘original’ forest. DNA will be extracted from the leaf samples of each species and sequenced. The  latest genome science will be applied to select the 20 individual trees of each species that will be cloned to provide planting stock with optimal genetic diversity for the establishment of a living seed bank in the form of a plantation that will produce seed  for use in restoration plantings. As the individual trees in the restoration plantings reproduce, seed with appropriate genetic diversity and fitness will be distributed across the landscape. The project focuses on key structural species and thus helping the survival of Australia’s critically endangered Lowland Subtropical Rainforest in the long term.

Lessons learned and current and future directions. A key lesson learned some five years ago was that BSL had grown to the point where volunteers could no longer manage the organisation effectively. BSL took a major step forward in 2015 by engaging a part-time Manager, contributing to BSL’s continuing success by expanding the scope, scale and effectiveness of its community engagement activities and improving its day to day management.

The principal lesson learned from BSL’s on-ground restoration program is to focus on rehabilitation of remnants and not to take on large planting projects, but rather support numerous partnered community tree planting events. Large grant-funded multi-site tree planting projects are too difficult to manage and to ensure landholders carry out the necessary maintenance in the medium to long term.

Acknowledgements.  BSL acknowledges our institutional Partners and receipt of funding from the NSW government’s Saving our Species program, NSW Environmental Trust and Big Scrub Foundation.

Contact:  Shannon Greenfields, Manager, Big Scrub Landcare (PO Box 106,  Bangalow NSW 2479 Australia; . Tel: +61 422 204 294; Email: info@bigscrubrainforest.org.au Web: www.bigscrubrainforest.org.au)

Seagrass restoration off the Adelaide coast using seeds and seedlings – UPDATE of EMR feature

Jason Tanner

[Update of EMR feature article :  Tanner JE, Andrew D. Irving, Milena Fernandes, Doug Fotheringham, Alicia McArdle and  Sue Murray-Jones (2014) Seagrass rehabilitation off metropolitan Adelaide: a case study of loss, action, failure and success.Ecological Restoration & Management 15: 3, 168-179.  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/emr.12133]

Key words:  Amphibolis, Posidonia, Recruitment facilitation, Seagrass loss

Figure 1: Bag layout for small-scale experiments on Amphibolis recruitment facilitation (top left), Amphibolis seedlings (top right), close-up of basal ‘grappling hook’ that allows seedlings to attach (bottom left), and examples of older style double-layered bags with and without seedlings attached (bottom right).

Introduction: Over the last half century or so, over 6,000 hectares of seagrass has been lost off the Adelaide coast due to anthropogenic nutrient and sediment inputs.  This loss has led to coastal erosion, decreased habitat, loss of carbon storage, and decreased fish abundance.  Recent improvements to wastewater treatment and stormwater runoff have led to some natural recovery, but changes in sand movement resulting from the loss now prevent recolonization of many areas.  Our September 2014 feature article in EMR described how SARDI have been working with other state government agencies and universities to develop a cost-effective technique to restore these areas.  Typical seagrass restoration costs on the order of AUD$1 million per hectare, but by facilitating natural recruitment of Amphibolis, yet over the last 17 years we have developed a technique that only costs a few tens of thousands of dollars.  As described in the feature, this technique uses hessian sand bags (Fig. 1) to provide a stable recruitment substrate while seedlings become established, and has resulted in the re-establishment of small trial patches of seagrass restoration (10-100 m2) which are now over 10 years old (Fig. 2) Importantly, these sites have been colonized by Posidonia and Zostera seagrasses, and provide habitat for faunal assemblages that are similar to those of nearby natural meadows, suggesting potential for small plots to act as ‘starters’ for ecosystem recovery.

Figure 2: Examples of Amphibolis restoration showing progression of establishment from 12 months (top left), 41 months (top right), 58 months (bottom left) and 8 years (bottom right).

Further work undertaken: Since our original article in EMR, we have continued monitoring the 1 hectare trial patches and expanded our focus to include additional species in the restoration, especially Posidonia.  We have also started assessing how bags degrade over time under different storage conditions, as operationalizing this technique will require bags to be stored potentially for a month or more between filling and deployment.  Importantly, the SA Government has now allocated funds for a proof of application, which will involve the deployment of hessian bags over approx. 10 hectares in late autumn 2020.

Further results to date: Two 1 hectare trials were deployed in June 2014, with 1,000 bags in each (Fig. 3).  After 9 months, these bags had an average 6.2 Amphibolis seedlings each, which was typical for bags deployed outside the winter recruitment season in previous years.  After a further 12 months, this increased to 9.2 seedlings per bag, within the range of densities previously seen for small-scale winter deployments (7-23 seedlings per bag).  A further 12 months later, densities had decreased to 3.1 seedlings per bag.  In 2017, a third 1 hectare trial was established with 2,500 bags, although these bags only had 1.2 seedlings each after 9 months. Unfortunately loss of nearly all marker stakes on all three plots due to suspected disturbance by fishing gear meant that further monitoring was not possible.  It should be noted that for the successful small-scale deployments, stem densities between 2 and 5 years were very low, and it was only after 5-7 years that success was evident.

Planting Posidonia seedlings into the bags showed good success over the first 3-4 years, with seedlings becoming established and developing into what appeared to be adult plants with multiple shoots, which did not allow individual seedlings to be identified (Fig. 4).  However, leaf densities declined substantially in the 12 months following the February 2016 survey, and recovery has been slow in the 2 years since.  Trials with different fill types (different sand/clay mixes, different amounts of organic matter added) indicated that this did not influence establishment success or growth, and neither did planting density.  Small and large seeds, however, tended to fare poorly compared to those of intermediate size (10-13 mm).  These results have been supported by short-term tank experiments, which also showed that there is only a short window for collecting fruits (those collected on 28 Dec formed an average 3.3 120 mm long leaves each after 2 ½ months, while those collected 6 days earlier or 3 days later formed < 2 leaves which were no more than 80 mm long).  After collection, fruits that did not release their seedling within 2-3 days performed poorly, and seedlings were best planted within 10 days of release. Whilst earlier Posidonia field experiments were undertaken by divers planting seedlings, which is time consuming and expensive, in 2017 seedlings were planted either onshore or on the boat, and then glued into the bags prior deployment.  This was as successful as planting underwater after 1 and 2 years, with an average 20% seedling survival, and leaf lengths of 20-25 cm, across all treatments.

Bags filled with moist sand rapidly dried out in storage, and did not deteriorate any quicker than those filled with dry sand, although it should be noted that in this experiment all bags had good air circulation around them, which would not be the case if they were stored in bulk.  Bags left outdoors exposed to the elements deteriorated quicker than those stored indoors, and pallet wrapping led to them rapidly becoming mouldy.

Figure 3: Pallets of sand bags ready for deployment (top left), and typical images of deployment

Lessons learned and future directions:  While the hessian bag method has resulted in the successful establishment of small patches of seagrasses that have persisted for around a decade, and which are now functioning like natural patches due to colonization by other marine plants and animals, the development of the technique has not been straightforward.  Refining the technique has required the development of a good understanding of the timing of recruitment, and the willingness to put conventional wisdom to the test.  This work has also required funders to take a long-term view, and to be willing to accept the fact that success cannot be established within a conventional 3-year funding cycle.  In this case, it was only 5-7 years and 2 funding cycles after deployment that we saw our small-scale trials being successful.  Now that we have established the technique at a small-scale, we are experiencing a new set of challenges with scaling up.  The 1 hectare plots have not been as successful as we had hoped.  In part, this may be due to low bag density – our small-scale plots were equivalent of approx. 10,000 bags per hectare, not the 1,000-2,500 that we have used.  Consequently, our next trial with involve a range of bag densities, from 1,000 to 10,000 bags per hectare.  In our previous article, we had indicated that we were looking at developing novel coatings to improve the life of the hessian bags, however, this proved cost prohibitive and reduced the ability of seedlings to attach to the bags.  Instead, we have now commenced a new collaboration with textile scientists to look at alternative natural fibres that might last longer than hessian but still be cheap, effective and biodegradable.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies:   SA Department for Environment & Water, SA Water, Adelaide & Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resource Management Board, Australian Research Council, South Australian Research & Development Institute, Flinders University

Contact information: A/Prof Jason Tanner, Principal Scientist – Environmental Assessment & Rehabilitation, SARDI Aquatic Sciences, PO Box 120, Henley Beach, SA. 5022. Tel: +61 8 8429 0119. Email: jason.tanner@sa.gov.au

Figure 4: Example of Posidonia rehabilitation at time of planting (left – January 2012), after 2 years (middle – February 2014) and 4 years (right – February 2016).

 

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

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

[Update of EMR feature –   Lindenmayer, David, Emmo Willinck, Mason Crane, Damian Michael, Sachiko Okada, Chris Cumming, Kylie Durant and Judy Frankenberg (2013) Murray Catchment habitat restoration: Lessons from landscape-level research and monitoring. Ecological Management & Restoration, 14:2, 80-92.  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/emr.12051 ]

Keywords: Revegetation, biodiversity recovery, monitoring, birds

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

Introduction

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

Further works undertaken

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons learned and future directions

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

Stakeholders and funding bodies

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

Contact information

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

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

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

[Update of EMR feature – David B. Lindenmayer, Christopher MacGregor, Nick Dexter, Martin Fortescue and Peter Cochrane (2013)  Booderee National Park Management: Connecting science and management.  Ecological Management & Restoration, 14:1, 2-10. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/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.

Re-establishing cryptogamic crust at The Waterways, Mordialloc

By Damien Cook

Photo 1.  Crytogamic crust consisting of mosses, lichens and liverworts in inter-tussock space in restored grassland at Waterways. These spaces provide recruitment opportunities for herbaceous species such as Wahlenbergia multicaulis and Brachyscome parvula

Introduction:  The Waterways is a unique urban development on the Mordialloc Creek, in Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs, which combines a housing estate with 48 hectares of restored habitat set aside for indigenous fauna and flora in open space, lakes and other wetlands. (See EMR Project summary ‘The Waterways‘.)

The revegetation of 4 hectares of native grassland and 7 hectares of swamp scrub provided the opportunity to trial the re-establishment of non-vascular plant species, as well as the higher plants which are normally the focus of restoration efforts.

Method. A diversity of cryptogams including Thuidiopsis furfurosa, Hypnum cuppressiforme, Triquetrella papillata and some Rosulabryum and lichen species were collected in the field from nearby remnants of native vegetation threatened with imminent destruction by freeway construction and new housing estates. These were placed in a blender and made into a 2 litre, thick slurry and the slurry was then diluted into a 20 litre a firefighting backpack. The diluted slurry was then applied to bare soils in the revegetated areas at the Waterways in August 2002; some areas were left untreated as a control.

Results. It was not until the wet winter of 2016 that it became apparent how successful this technique had been. There are now quite large areas with a good cover of cryptogams, particularly in the restored grassland and swamp scrub areas. There are some cryptogams in the untreated areas, but the species richness and cover are much lower. Cryptogamic crust cover appears to suppress weed germination, reducing the need for herbicide application, yet provides recruitment opportunities for native forbs (see Photos 1-3).

Acknowledgements. Thanks are due to the Haines family who were the developers of “The Waterways”, and in particular Stephen Haines, for involving us in the revegetation of the site and allowing us scope to trial different ecological restoration techniques. 

Contact: Damien Cook (rakali2@outlook.com.au)

Photo 2. Swamp Scrub at Waterways. Note the dense layer of mosses in the understory, particularly Thuidiopsis furfurosa

Photo 3. Fruiting capsules of a species of Bryum in restored native grassland at Waterways