When my husband, Ben, and I decided to make the move to WA I was in the middle of searching for a research topic stimulating enough to study for three or more years so I could start a PhD. I’d explored several topics and spoken to potential supervisors but nothing had grabbed my attention enough to commit to another three years of study (at least).
We arrived at Eurardy Reserve and as I began to settle into our new home, explore the property, see its amazing wildflowers and find out about its history, the idea of beginning a research project on the reserve began to take hold.
Eurardy is a spectacular place with amazing floristic diversity, a range of threatened flora and fantastic wildflower displays. But as you drive into the reserve either side of the driveway are fields of wheat – not your standard view on a conservation reserve. Bush Heritage has been working towards the restoration of these areas for a long time but various difficulties have prevented the progression of on-ground work.
After 11 years of Bush Heritage owning and managing Eurardy a lot of the major benefits of destocking and ongoing management have been realised and the best return on investment will be through restoration of cleared land on the reserve. As this became a priority and workshops were held and plans developed, it presented the perfect opportunity for an engaging PhD project!
After a discussions and meetings with potential supervisors I recently began my PhD through Murdoch University with Dr Rachel Standish (Murdoch University), Dr Suzanne Prober (CSIRO) and Prof Richard Hobbs (UWA) as my supervisors. And following long trawls through the literature looking for the most important gaps in current research, I’ve landed on a project investigating the recovery of York Gum Woodlands in the mid-west of Western Australia.
As well as working at Eurardy I’ll be framing the project in a more regional context and I’ve already managed to gain support from organisations in addition to Bush Heritage, such as Carbon Neutral and the Northern Agricultural Catchments Council (NACC).
To give you a little more detail, my project will investigate, if revegetation of abandoned farmland can fully restore ecosystem functions and biodiversity in York gum Woodlands. I’ll be focusing on ecosystem functions such as decomposition, nutrient cycling and water retention as well as diversity and abundance of ground-dwelling invertebrates.
To give you some broader context, the mid-west of Western Australia is a highly fragmented landscape with up to 90% of native vegetation cleared for agriculture. As well as having a major impact on native flora and fauna, this clearing has changed landscape processes at a large scale for example through loss of top soil, soil moisture and changes in overall water balance.
Years of cultivation have increased nutrient levels due to addition of fertiliser, reduced organic soil carbon and increased soil density caused by machinery and stock grazing. Re-vegetated sites can take a long time (100+ years) to mature and to provide similar habitat characteristics as intact remnant vegetation. There's also a significant time lag in the accumulation of leaf-litter, woody debris and logs, reducing the suitability of re-vegetated sites for litter-dependant fauna such as Malleefowl.
My project will aim to investigate whether management actions such as the addition of mulch and wood as substitutes for leaf-litter and woody debris can assist the recovery of ecosystem function and diversity.
I’d like to sincerely thank Bush Heritage for the opportunity to live on and do research at Eurardy Reserve. I’d also like to thank the staff who have helped me get to this point. Hopefully in return the knowledge gained from this project can enable more effective re-vegetation at Eurardy and in the broader region, and hopefully the collaboration between the organisations involved can strengthen Bush Heritage’s relationships and standing in the on-ground and academic restoration community!
Stay tuned for updates from my upcoming field trips and please get in touch ([email protected]) if you'd like to find out more!