Bush Blitz at Bon Bon

Sunday 20 March, 2011

The enormous Bon Bon Station Reserve has been blitzed. Two years after its purchase, a scientific expedition has unveiled a wealth of species.

In October 2010, Bon Bon Station Reserve was abuzz with activity as 20 scientists, including experts in reptiles, mammals, plants and invertebrates, joined forces to conduct a multi-species survey – a Bush Blitz – of the scenic desert property.

Sunset over a saltbush plain on Bon Bon Station ReserveSunset over a saltbush plain on Bon Bon Station Reserve. Photo: Annette Ruzicka.

Multi-species survey

Variously equipped with harp traps, sweep nets, malaise traps, light traps, spotlights, Elliott and pitfall traps, the team of scientists and volunteers spent a week surveying most of the reserve: not bad going for a property the size of Sydney.

They found a wealth of species – known and unknown – from bees to beetles, dunnarts to dragons and a staggering number of plant species.

Volunteer Kate Holmes from conservation organisation Arid Recovery describes Bon Bon as a beautiful and diverse property with rolling sand dunes and salt lakes in the south and vast bluebush and saltbush plains to the north.

Dr Jim Radford checks a trapDr Jim Radford removes a lizard from a pitfall trap. Photo: Annette Ruzicka.

One of the highlights for her was collecting native bees, wasps and other insects. ‘It was a real eye opener for me. I’m allergic to bees but found it really exciting catching something in a sweep net and then identifying it.’ Over 80 species of bees were recorded in the survey, two thirds of which could be new to science.

Another of Kate’s jobs was to check the pitfall and Elliott traps each morning.

‘The recent rainfall meant the seasonal conditions for trapping were excellent although the week itself was a bit cool,’ says Dr Jim Radford, Bush Heritage’s Science and Monitoring Manager. 'However, on the last night it was very humid and warm and all the animals and insects were out and about.’

Valuable species data

The 47 reptile and five small mammal species recorded at Bon Bon will provide valuable data to add to distribution records which when analysed at broad geographic scales, may reveal new species.

A fat-tailed dunnartThis fat-tailed dunnart is safer thanks to you. Photo: Annette Ruzicka.

‘It often turns out that what we thought was a single widely-distributed species is actually several closely-related but different species that superficially look very similar,’ explains Jim. ‘It’s only when the experts run the genetic analysis that we discover they’re different, and often previously undescribed, species.’

For example, unusual forms of a slider – a skink with no front legs that slides through the sand – warrant further study.

Of the five mammals recorded, the spinifex hopping mouse was found at the southern edge of its range, whereas the little long-tailed dunnart was on the northern margin of its South Australian range.

Experts working together

Nocturnal light trapping for moths, beetles and other insects proved particularly rewarding. ‘There are very few samples of invertebrates from this region, so it was exciting for the invertebrate taxonomists to see what species are out there and begin to catalogue them,’ says Jim.

After winter rains, conditions were perfect for the botanists who were busy pressing and cataloguing plants for the South Australian Herbarium.

Bearded dragonA bearded dragon. Photo: Annette Ruzicka.

And they worked closely with the bee experts, identifying which plants the bees were pollinating and getting a better idea of the associations between bees, plants and other invertebrates.

‘That’s what was so special about this Blitz. Not only were we able to increase our knowledge of what’s out there and establish a baseline for future monitoring, one of the highlights was having experts in different fields all working together,’ explains Jim.

Your support allows Bush Heritage to manage this former sheep station to protect its diverse populations of plants, animals, insects, reptiles and birds. Thank you!

Bon Bon Station Reserve was acquired in 2008 with the assistance of the Australian Government under the Natural Heritage Trust’s National Reserve System Programme, the Government of South Australia and the Besen Family Foundation. Thanks again to the Besen Family Foundation for their support of vital conservation work at Bon Bon this year.

By Charlotte Francis

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