Purple-gaped honeyeater at Chingarrup, WA. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
The study of how habitat loss and fragmentation affects plants and animals has been a major research topic over the past 40 years. One of the accepted principles is that plant and animal populations that are divided or isolated by habitat loss are more likely to decline and suffer local extinction than those enjoying large, intact and connected habitats.
Movement of individual animals through the landscape is critical for supporting viable populations – allowing animals to disperse into new habitat, to find shelter, mates and food, as well as maintain genetic diversity and 'rescue' declining populations.
That’s why revegetation, restoration and retention of critical habitat linkages have become a recognised strategy for reconnecting fragmented landscapes to boost plant and animal populations. However, we're still learning how to re-connect landscapes and deliver the greatest benefit for the largest number of species.
This research addresses questions such as:
- Which parts of the landscape are most important to protect or restore to increase connectivity, and for which species or groups of species?
- What are the risks of increasing connectivity?
- How do species and populations maintain connectivity in ephemeral environments?
Case study: Re-connecting the Fitz-Stirling
Implementation of ‘five-star restoration’ to increase landscape connectivity in Gondwana Link
Gondwana Link partnership Yarraweyah Falls, WA. Photo byJessica Wyld Photography
Landscape connectivity principles have been used to design and prioritise our actions in the Fitz-Stirling region of southwest Western Australia, to fill a critical habitat gap in the 1,000km Gondwana Link connectivity project.
The multi-property conservation program – a partnership with Greening Australia WA and Gondwana Link Ltd - is protecting, reconnecting and restoring habitat between the Stirling Range and Fitzgerald River National Parks. Within the Fitz-Stirling focal landscape, over 1,500 hectares have now been actively revegetated with another 850 hectares regenerating naturally.
This has increased connectivity in the landscape and resulted in a 300% increase in bird activity in revegetated sites at our Chereninup Creek and Yarrabee reserves, and Chingarrup (a partnership property).
At Chereninup Creek, revegetated areas are now supporting as many insect and nectar consuming birds as adjacent, undisturbed mallee heath. Honey possums and pygmy possums have recolonised revegetated areas 4 to 5 years after planting.
These results attest to the increased ability of animals to move through the landscape to reach and colonise new habitat. We'll continue to monitor the outcomes of our restoration efforts with the help of citizen scientists and student projects.
Key landscape connectivity projects
Re-connecting the Fitz-Stirling: implementation of 'five-star restoration' to increase landscape connectivity in Gondwana Link, south-west Western Australia
Bush Heritage-led research examining re-colonisation of restored and re-connected habitat in a fragmented landscape.
The endangered Swift parrot as a model for managing small migratory birds – life history, spatial ecology and population viability
Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage project led by Dr. Rob Heinsohn from Australian National University (ANU), studying movement patterns of the swift parrot.