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Standing in the way of extinction

Published 13 Jun 2017 

For some threatened creatures, the grassy plains and woodlands of the Tasmanian Midlands are the only refuges they have left. That’s why we’re trying to save them.

Bush Heritage ecologist Dr Matt Appleby conducts a vegetation survey on a Tasmanian Midlands property. Photo by Annette Ruzicka.
Bush Heritage ecologist Dr Matt Appleby conducts a vegetation survey on a Tasmanian Midlands property. Photo by Annette Ruzicka.
Small, conical holes in the ground are the calling cards of the Tasmanian Midlands’ gourmands. Shaped by the finest of noses, these holes are evidence of Eastern Barred Bandicoots searching for their favourite foods – truffles, tubers and insects – and unearthing them with their long, curved toes.

These nocturnal marsupials are becoming increasingly rare in the Midlands as their habitat is cleared for agriculture, and they have few other places left to go.

“We used to regularly see those little cone-shaped holes in the ground, but you don’t see them so much anymore,” says Dr Matt Appleby, Bush Heritage ecologist for the South East.

An Eastern Bettong. ©Sandy Kuiper/Flickr.
An Eastern Bettong. ©Sandy Kuiper/Flickr.
Eastern Barred Bandicoots aren’t the only creatures that rely on the Midlands for their continued survival. Their fellow foodies Eastern Bettongs are near-threatened, almost half of Tasmania’s entire Wedge-tailed Eagle population calls the region home, and it’s a stronghold for Eastern Quolls.

For these species, as well as many more, the remnant patches of native grasslands and woodlands in the Tasmanian Midlands are critical for their continued survival. Yet every year these patches of native vegetation get smaller and smaller.

Opportunity in an under-protected landscape

Bush Heritage is slowing that decline through the Tasmanian Midlands conservation project. This long-term project – a partnership between Bush Heritage, the Tasmanian Land Conservancy and local landowners – is seeing native habitats in the Tasmanian Midlands restored to good health and protected.

With most of the Midlands region privately owned and farmed for agriculture, Bush Heritage and the Tasmanian Land Conservancy are focusing on working with local farmers on their own land, with the ultimate goal of protecting 8,000 hectares of the Midlands.

An Eastern Quoll. Photo Sean Crane.
An Eastern Quoll. Photo Sean Crane.
“Australia has 15 national biodiversity hotspots and the Midlands of Tasmania are one of those, but less than 10% of this area is protected through the traditional reserve system. That’s why the Midlands project is so important,” says Dr Jody Gunn, Bush Heritage Executive Manager for the South East.

“Lowland temperate grasslands are one of the key habitats in the Midlands, but over 95% of the Midlands’ native grasslands have been cleared, or are now of reduced quality,” says Jody.

A last refuge

Not only are the Tasmanian Midlands vital habitat for species like the Eastern Barred Bandicoot, Eastern Bettong and Eastern Quoll; they're also one of their last refuges. These creatures are now extinct in the wild on mainland Australia, and the Midlands of Tasmania are one of the few places they can still be found.

The Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle, a magnificent bird of prey with a wingspan stretching up to 2.3 metres, evolved into its own subspecies after around 10,000 years of isolation from its mainland relatives. It prefers open country (as is found in the Midlands) for hunting, and is highly sensitive to disruption of its nesting habitat.

“The Wedge-tailed Eagle is a species that likes fairly open ground to find its prey, so open woodlands and grasslands are fantastic areas for them to forage in, and that’s the dominant native vegetation in the Midlands,” says Matt.

Just as these animals need the Midlands for their continued survival, the Midlands, too, need these animals. Both the Eastern Barred Bandicoot and the Eastern Bettong are considered ‘soil engineers’ for their ability to shape and nourish the ecosystems they live in.

As these little earth-movers search for food, they turn soils over and bring nutrients to the surface, breaking up hard soils in the process, and making holes in which seeds can sprout.

“If marsupials continue to decline in this region, then the ecosystems will start to breakdown. Bandicoots and bettongs, for example, help move seeds and spores from one place to another, and this can be vital after an area has been heavily disturbed. Every species has a role to play, so when a species disappears, other species can be affected," says Matt.

Take action: Together, we can prevent extinctions

Australia is in the midst of an extinction crisis – we’re losing our native mammals at an alarming rate. But targeted actions, including protecting critical last refuges such as the Tasmanian Midlands, can help turn that crisis around.

Will you act to save these species before it’s too late? Donate today.