Understanding the ecology of Gondwana Link

Friday 20 June, 2008

As Bush Heritage Australia supports work to achieve Gondwana Link, Charlotte Francis reports on an innovative project that will assist in the management of the Gondwana Link properties.

Flat top yate and flowering wattle line a waterhole on Chereninup Creek Reserve, WA.  Photo Chinch Gryniewicz.

Flat top yate and flowering wattle line a waterhole on Chereninup Creek Reserve, WA.  Photo Chinch Gryniewicz.

One of the main objectives of Gondwana Link, our joint landscape restoration project in south-west Western Australia, is to significantly improve the health of the region’s native vegetation.

We work with Greening Australia (WA) to restore and reconnect the remaining patches of bushland by revegetating cleared farmland with local native plants.

Since the beginning of the project, Bush Heritage Australia and Greening Australia (WA) have acquired five properties between the Stirling Range and Fitzgerald River national parks. Bush Heritage owns the Monjebup and Chereninup Creek reserves, Greening Australia (WA) owns the Nowanup Reserve, and the two organisations are joint owners of the Yarrabee Wesfarmers and Peniup Creek reserves.

Black-gloved wallaby. Photo Jiri Lochman/Lochman Transparencies.

Black-gloved wallaby. Photo Jiri Lochman/Lochman Transparencies.

These holdings collectively protect almost 6,000 hectares of important conservation land. In addition, we've begun working with private landholders to protect and restore native vegetation on their land.

The conservation and restoration work of Gondwana Link is being supported by the ‘Knowledge Connection’ project. Funded by Lotterywest, and managed jointly by Greening Australia (WA) and Bush Heritage, Knowledge Connection is a comprehensive information-gathering and assessment project designed to provide a better understanding of the ecology of this special landscape.

Paula Deegan of Greening Australia (WA), who manages the project, explains:

"As our Gondwana Link vision is to restore habitats on a large scale, we need to better understand the ecology that underpins this conservation work. We also want to make sure we have sensible goals and clear ways of measuring our progress."

The project brings together current knowledge and collects data on six carefully selected conservation ‘targets’. These include creeks (and freshwater systems in general), three vegetation communities (banksia heath, mallet and moort woodland, and yate woodland) and two wildlife species (black-gloved and Tammar wallabies).

The knowledge gathered will be used to refine the management practices necessary to save and restore these target communities and species. Progress will be regularly monitored.

As the condition of each target community or species improves, so should that of the entire ecosystem.

Leaves and flower-caps of the moort. Photo Chinch Gryniewicz.

Leaves and flower-caps of the moort. Photo Chinch Gryniewicz.

One of our techniques is to use aerial photographs to map the distribution of mallet and moort woodlands, and to map sites chosen for the monitoring of banksia heath and freshwater systems.

The mapping shows where fires have occurred, which will help us to develop longer-term fire-management plans. Another technique is to measure certain ‘indicators’ (such as numbers of wallabies recorded or frog calls heard) at monitoring sites to evaluate the health and viability of all six target communities or species.

The data recorded is compared over time to determine whether our management actions are helping to improve the health of the area and restore ecological resilience.

Volunteers have assisted Knowledge Connection’s ecologist, Angela Sanders, with her work. At Nowanup Reserve, over 30 volunteers, including school students and Noongar people, helped out with animal trapping using a combination of pitfall and Elliott traps (collapsible aluminium boxes, each with a trapdoor).

A dwarf bearded dragon at Peniup Creek Reserve. Photo Chinch Gryniewicz.

A dwarf bearded dragon at Peniup Creek Reserve. Photo Chinch Gryniewicz.

A number of community members have also been trained to record frog calls as a technique for identifying suitable freshwater sites. Volunteers have also helped to assess and monitor 25km of creek systems.

‘Knowledge Connection will ensure we can measure our progress and improve our understanding of how these complex landscapes work,’ says Paula Deegan. ‘The knowledge gained from the project will be shared with the local community, others interested in learning about Gondwana Link and the broader scientific community.’

Knowledge is being shared through the Gondwana Link website, as well as through the distribution of information sheets on the six conservation targets, a booklet describing the conservation management approach, animal observation record sheets and identification notes.

By guiding the setting of priorities for restoration work and other conservation activities, Knowledge Connection will help us to identify which properties we want to purchase next, and to refine the management of current properties.

As habitats are restored and become more viable, we can expect to see major improvements in the health of the ecosystems and in the number of animals and different species recorded.

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