Science: Expanding our horizons

Sunday 21 June, 2015

Australia’s plants and animals are in the midst of an extinction crisis. Species are declining at alarming rates and ecosystems are under increasing stress and strain.

Professor Chris Dickman measures a painted dragonProfessor Chris Dickman (The University of Sydney) has led a team of researchers involved on Ethabuka Reserve, Qld, for over 25 years. Photo by Bobby Tamayo.

At Bush Heritage we’re working to grow and expand our conservation programs to help protect more of Australia’s native species and highest priority landscapes.

We use the best-available science to help restore and manage ecosystems that support threatened plants and animals. However, we don’t always understand the complex reasons behind particular species’ declines or have all the tools to manage their recoveries. That’s why scientific research is vital to our work.

To make sure our science program keeps growing in step with our conservation work, we recently launched a 10-year plan that maps out a clear path to double our science capacity by 2025.

We currently support 55 active research projects, involving more than 50 scientists from 15 universities, which are investigating a wide range of conservation problems. We aim to double that support to 120 projects in the next decade, a plan costed at $20 million.

Key research themes

Our current research can be grouped into six main themes, each addressing key issues for conservation in Australia.

Are there risks to increasing connectivity? How can connections be maintained in ephemeral environments? Projects such as Gondwana Link are informed by this research.

Case study: Gondwana Link seeks to restore 1,000km of connected habitat. Healthy Landscape Manager Simon Smale with Jane and Bill Thompson, owners of Yarraweyah Falls, which neighbours our Monjebup Reserve.

Where are the important refuges (from drought, fire, climate change, etc.)? Where do important species breed? How can we best find and monitor these areas?

Case study: Research at Scottsdale Reserve on the Murrumbidgee River aims to identify breeding areas for nationally endangered Macquarie Perch. 

What are the best management strategies? Does removing dingoes or foxes simply lead to problems with cats or rabbits? How does each introduced species interact with natives?

Case study: We partner in an Australian Research Council study looking at interactions Bush Heritage partnerships between cats and natives in the grassy plains Aboriginal partnership of the Tasmanian Midlands

How does the scale, seasonality and size of fire (planned and unplanned) affect plants and animals?

Case study: PhD candidate Emma Burgess has been studying fire history and habitat structure for birds on Carnarvon Reserve.

What are the critical threats? What are the requirements and barriers to successfully reintroducing threatened species to parts of their previous range?

Case study: The translocation of threatened red-tailed phascogales onto Kojonup Reserve has boosted their prospects of long-term survival

How can we better restore changed ecosystems by providing habitat features (e.g. rock mounds, rolled wire ‘refuges’, logs etc.)? Can selective habitat restoration help address issues such as feral predators, weeds and soil erosion?

Case study: On Scottsdale Reserve we’re researching how to encourage long-lived eucalypts, such as white box and yellow box, back into the landscape while preserving understory species. Eucalypt seedlings ready for planting.

How we plan to double capacity by 2025

Nationally-competitive research grants: Partner with University scientists to undertake 10 multi-year projects.

Small research grants: Annually secure three small grants for Bush Heritage-led research.

Scholarships: Offer four post-graduate student scholarships per year (with research assistance).

Internships: Offer University work placements and two post-graduate internships for science projectts.

Science series: Publish and promote a series of reports that stimulate discussion of conservation issues.

Transformational change forum: Establish a multi-platform forum (online blogs, symposia, public lectures, workshops, open days) to bring researchers together and to influence policy and practice.

Science fellowships: Create three positions for scientists to develop and lead relevant multi-institutional research.

Centres of learning: Establish four field stations as hubs for scientific research, community education, citizen science, volunteers and visitors.

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