Threatened species and communities
Over 500 fauna and flora species and ecological communities are listed as threatened under Victorian legislation (Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988).
Many more are included in DELWP's Threatened Species Advisory Lists (over 250 animals and 1800 plants). Reasons for their decline include the loss, fragmentation and degradation of habitat due to clearing for agriculture, urban development, timber harvesting, weed invasion, inappropriate fire regimes, grazing, climate change, and alteration to flows and temperature regimes in rivers. Competition for resources and predation by introduced species (e.g. fox, cats, rabbits, trout) have also had a significant effect on many species. Effective management of these processes is required to ensure the survival of threatened species and communities into the future. This management needs to be based on information obtained via ecological research.
Key projects (with details below)
- Southern Right Whale movements using photo-identification
- Freshwater Catfish at Tahbilk Lagoon - breeding, spawning and water levels
- Melbourne Strategic Assessment Program - ARI
- Removing trout for Barred Galaxias conservation
- Removing exotic fish helps protect Trout Cod and Macquarie Perch
- Improving habitat for the Plains-wanderer and the Hooded Scaly-foot
- Extensive new knowledge on threatened species to improve forest management
- Smoky Mice movement across a strategic fuel break in north-east Victoria
- Victorian threatened orchid recovery program
- Threatened alpine herpetofauna
Key projects (in other themes)
- Method for surveying an endangered arboreal marsupial: Leadbeater's Possum (Mapping and Measuring Biodiversity)
- New survey methods and fire effects on rare crayfish in Gippsland (Fire Ecology and Recovery)
- Macquarie Perch recovery in King Parrot Creek after the 2009 bushfires (Fire Ecology and Recovery)
Southern Right Whale movements using photo-identification
The nationally threatened Southern Right Whale is a seasonal visitor to Australia's southern coast, occurring mainly between Sydney and Perth, including Tasmania. There are several areas where females congregate to calve, with Logan's Beach in Warrnambool, Victoria the only area in the south-eastern Australian region where this regularly occurs. Whales using this area are thought to comprise a genetically distinct population, made up of less than 300 animals. Gaining more insight into the distribution and movements of individuals contributes to a better understanding of population dynamics, helping to guide management of this species.
Individual whales can be identified from the unique pattern of white markings (callosities) on their head. This has been utilised to track whale movements via photographs, and there are several catalogues of such photos that have been compiled. DELWP's Barwon South West Regional Services have been recording whale sightings in Victoria for many decades and co-ordinates the Southeast Australia Southern Right Whale Photo Identification Catalogue which now contains over 1000 images from across several states.
ARI and Barwon South West Regional Services have cross-referenced photos from south-eastern Australia with those from the national catalogue using specialised software, revealing new insights about how some of the whales are using the coast. Twenty-five individuals were identified as common to each catalogue, suggesting that a significant number of whales are travelling between the south-east and south-west regions of Australia. A female who had calved at Logan's Beach for many years (7 calves between 1985 and 2002) unexpectedly shifted to a calving ground in South Australia. This information allows us to better target research efforts that will identify changes in population numbers, critical habitat use and potential threats to this population. This project was funded through the Victorian Government's Threatened Species Protection Initiative.
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Freshwater Catfish at Tahbilk Lagoon - breeding, spawning and water levels
Tahbilk Lagoon near Nagambie, central Victoria, is well known for its biodiversity values which includes several threatened species and vegetation communities. It is an important refuge for the Freshwater Catfish (Tandanus tandanus), being one of the few locations in Victoria with a relatively abundant population. Recent research has revealed important information about the movements and habitat needs of this threatened species to inform the development of recovery actions. However, more precise information about the timing of breeding was required to ensure environmental water releases would not have impact spawning success. Freshwater Catfish are unusual in that they build circular nests in shallow areas, commonly made of stones. Males maintain the nest, fanning away sediment and chasing away predators until the eggs hatch.
Environmental water releases are an important tool to ensure adequate flows throughout waterways. However, rapid fluctuations in water levels can cause catfish to abandon nests, reducing the amount of eggs that get laid, fertilised and protected. Although breeding was known to occur over several months during spring to summer, the exact timing of spawning and hatching had not been identified.
ARI investigated the timing of catfish spawning by sampling for larvae and young fish of a few months in age. The presence of larvae (10-15 days old) in late November, and young fish (55-60 mm in length) in mid-February indicates that spawning occurred in November-December. Although further monitoring is required to better understand the timing of breeding in other years, maintaining stable flows in Tahbilk Lagoon during this period is likely to be important to provide suitable breeding opportunities and increased survival of juveniles. This information will contribute to Freshwater Catfish conservation by guiding management of environmental water releases by the Goulburn Broken CMA. The Tahbilk Lagoon is a great example of long term, integrated research and management, supported by many organisations and individuals. The current research was funded through the Victorian Government's Threatened Species Protection Initiative.
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The following fact sheet is available:
- Bringing Native Fish Back - Freshwater Catfish at Tahbilk Lagoon (accessible version )
Melbourne Strategic Assessment Program - ARI
ARI is helping to protect and manage threatened ecosystems on the fringes of Melbourne, under the Melbourne Strategic Assessment program (MSA). Its purpose is to mitigate the impacts of urban development on three listed ecological communities (a type of grassland, a woodland and a wetland), six listed plant species (two daisies, two orchids, a lily and a Rice-flower) and four listed animal species (a frog, a bandicoot, a moth and a lizard).
ARI has contributed to the MSA since it began in 2008, from the design of the program to its implementation. This included input into conservation reserve design, using both field assessments and spatial modeling; while collaborations with a range of experts have developed measurable management targets for each species and community to track and understand ecological changes within the reserves. This has contributed to the MSA Monitoring and Reporting Framework, and led to the publication of a new approach to quantifying vegetation quality using expert preference data.
ARI scientists continue to work with the DELWP Regulatory Strategy & Design Branch and Knowledge & Decision Systems Branch on several aspects of the MSA, including:
- Inventory and mapping of the plants and animals that occur on newly-reserved properties. This involves a range of survey techniques, including remote cameras from which ARI has documented a range of biological values, and threats. Results to date include records of twelve plants and four animals that are rare, vulnerable or endangered in Victoria; plus twenty records of noxious weeds
- Field-based monitoring of threatened species and communities, using the protocols set out in the MSA Monitoring and Reporting Framework. This provides the data required to report on ecological changes occurring under the MSA
- Making ecological models that quantify the expected responses of species or communities to management interventions and are used to guide future management decisions
For more information on ARI's involvement in the MSA contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
The following journal article is available:
- Sinclair, S.J., Griffioen, P., Duncan, D.H., Millett-Riley, J.E., and White, M.D. (2015). Quantifying ecosystem quality by modeling multi‐attribute expert opinion. Ecological Applications, 25(6):1463-1477
Removing trout for Barred Galaxias conservation
The Barred Galaxias (Galaxias fuscus) is a small fish restricted to the Goulburn River system in Victoria. Predation by introduced Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) and Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is the main threat to this nationally threatened species; trout are able to eliminate an entire population within 6–24 months. Current Barred Galaxias populations are isolated from each other and restricted to short sections of narrow headwater streams, above instream barriers that limit the colonisation of trout from downstream during normal flow conditions. Nevertheless, trout sometimes access populations after breaching these barriers during large flow events or due to humans moving fish.
A major way that populations of Barred Galaxias are protected from trout incursion is the construction and modification of instream barriers. Trout detection surveys also occur annually above instream barriers, where trout are removed and relocated downstream of barriers. ARI has analysed 22 years of trout survey data to determine the effectiveness of this strategy to protect Barred Galaxias populations. Factors that may influence the effectiveness of barriers were also considered, including type (e.g. natural vs artificial) and proximity to towns.
Trout detections above barriers declined over time, suggesting that trout removal and relocation is an effective way of keeping trout numbers low and preventing populations from becoming established. Natural barriers, such as waterfalls, were more effective than artificial barriers, such as weirs. Artificial barriers also tended to be closer to towns, suggesting that human aided dispersal contributes to their lower effectiveness. Prioritising sites close to towns for surveys and trout relocation, while reducing surveys where the probability of trout incursion is low, will more effectively target the more vulnerable Barred Galaxias populations. Artificial barriers also require ongoing maintenance to remain effective. This project was funded by the State Government.
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Removing exotic fish helps protect Trout Cod and Macquarie Perch
Sevens Creek in central Victoria is one of the few remaining waterways in the state where the nationally endangered Trout Cod (Maccullochella macquariensis) and Macquarie Perch (Macquaria australasica) co-occur. One of the key threats to populations of these fish are exotic species such as Redfin and Carp. Redfin are highly voracious and predate on juvenile fish, and also compete for habitat and food resources. They also have the potential to spread the Epizootic Haematopoietic Necrosis Virus (EHNV) known to be lethal to many fish species including Trout Cod and Macquarie Perch. There is a risk that this virus could become established in Sevens Creek, posing a significant threat to populations.
ARI has monitored fish populations in Sevens Creek for many years and undertaken ad hoc exotic fish removal. In 2014 and 2015 ARI targeted the removal of Redfin and Carp to reduce the threat of predation, competition and the introduction of disease. In this removal program, 775 Redfin and 119 Carp individuals were removed. For Redfin in particular, this reduced their numbers substantially from those recorded prior to the removal. The abundance of Trout Cod and Macquarie Perch also increased over this period. Strong breeding contributed to population growth, which is a promising sign for the sustainability of these populations. This is particularly important for Sevens Creek because a natural barrier is present in the waterway which limits opportunities for recolonization.
Targeted exotic species removal complements the extensive riparian and instream habitat restoration conducted by the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority and has greatly boosted Trout Cod and Macquarie Perch populations in Sevens Creek. This highlights that persistent and targeted exotic species removal in conjunction with integrated restoration benefits threatened fish species. This project was funded by the Victorian Government.
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Improving habitat for the Plains-wanderer and Hooded Scaly-foot
ARI has undertaken a project to restore the habitat of the ground-dwelling bird Plains-wanderer Pedionomus torquatus and legless lizard Hooded Scaly-foot Pygopus nigriceps. Both species are classified as Critically Endangered in Victoria and are restricted to native grassland habitats. This work, which included predator baiting and carefully managed ecological grazing, was undertaken at two key reserves in north-central Victoria, Terrick Terrick National Park and Bael Bael Grassland Nature Conservation Reserve. Monitoring of these species has been conducted at the two reserves for several years.
Both species occur in areas with specific characteristics, including 'red soil', a mosaic of grassy low vegetation, sparse litter cover and patches of bare ground. The Plains-wanderer in particular has undergone a significant decline across its range following widespread flooding in 2011 and vigorous post-flood growth of ground-level vegetation — it was not recorded in Victoria during 2011-14. The main aim of this project was to improve habitat by using sheep grazing to reduce vegetation biomass. Habitat assessments found that grazing successfully altered the vegetation structure to more closely align with that favoured by the Plains-wanderer and Hooded Scaly-foot.
It is unclear how soon the impacts of grazing will result in an increase in threatened species abundance, although the signs for the Plains-wanderer are promising. Thirty-one birds were recorded in 2015, an increase on previous years, but with encounter rates still less than half those immediately before the flooding. The status of the Hooded Scaly-foot appears not to have improved — very low numbers were recorded at only a few monitoring locations. This project was a collaboration between ARI, Parks Victoria and expert ecologists, and funded by the State Government.
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Extensive new knowledge on threatened species to improve forest management
The forests of eastern Victoria provide habitat for a range of threatened species, as well as being an important source of timber. In 2011 the Victorian Government released the Timber Industry Action Plan to provide for a sustainable timber industry. As part of this plan, a project was initiated to develop an effective landscape approach to threatened species management that balances the needs of biodiversity conservation and timber production. A key component of the project was done by scientists at ARI investigating the status, distribution and habitat use of ten high priority threatened fauna species to provide updated information required for the development of this new management framework.
The research was focussed on the Long-footed Potoroo in East Gippsland, and the Leadbeater's Possum, Smoky Mouse, two gliding possums, three large forest owls and two newly-described fish in the Central Highlands. Extensive surveys were conducted generating 344 new records of these rare species and 155 records of other threatened fauna. Population and habitat models were developed to predict current distribution and where suitable habitat is likely to occur. This information will be used to help identify the most important areas for the conservation of these species and will contribute to the development of evidence-based policy.
One of the highest profile species studied was the Leadbeater's Possum, which is Victoria's faunal emblem. It's entire distribution is within the Central Highlands and it was severely affected by the 2009 fires exacerbating its current decline. A survey technique was developed using thermal cameras and additional surveys were done in unburnt islands of potential habitat within the burnt area. Leadbeater's Possums were found in some unburnt patches, which may assist recolonisation as the burnt habitat regenerates. Analysis assessed the current status, population trend and whether current reserve systems are sufficient to sustain viable populations under different scenarios including future bushfires. The results will provide information that will guide the management strategies required to support the future persistence of this species.
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The report on this comprehensive project is available:
- Lumsden, L.F., Nelson, J.L., Todd, C.R., Scroggie, M.P., McNabb, E.G., Raadik, T.A., Smith, S.J., Acevedo, S., Cheers, G., Jemison, M.L. and Nicol, M.D. (2013) A new strategic approach to biodiversity management – research component. Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research Unpublished Client Report for the Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Heidelberg, Victoria (accessible version )
Smoky Mice movements across a strategic fuel break in north-east Victoria
A network of strategic fuel breaks has been constructed around Melbourne's forested water catchments for the purpose of reducing the risk of fire damage to the city's water supply. Fuel breaks are linear clearings with most of the understorey and some of the larger trees removed. They often incorporate vehicle tracks, but are wider. Their purpose is to provide safer access for fire-fighters for back-burning operations during wildfires. However, the presence of fuel breaks has the potential to affect native animals.
ARI has completed a study on the movements of the threatened Smoky Mouse (Pseudomys fumeus) that aimed to see whether the fuel break was acting as a barrier to this small nocturnal rodent. The main concern was that Smoky Mice may not readily cross large open areas with no overhead cover. This could reduce breeding opportunities, dispersal and consequently genetic diversity and the future persistence of the species.
A known population of Smoky Mice immediately adjacent to both sides of a fuel break in forest near Jamieson, north-east Victoria, was studied over a year and a half using mark and release trapping, and radio-telemetry. Radio-collared individuals were recorded crossing the fuel break several times during night-time sessions. The frequency of crossings suggest that the fuel break is not acting as a barrier to the movement of Smoky Mice; a positive finding given the threatened status of this species. Other management issues may be more important for this species, particularly the possibility that animals crossing the fuel break may be more exposed to predation by introduced mammals such as foxes and cats.
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The following journal article is available:
- Macak, P. V., and Menkhorst, P. W. (2016) Forest fire break not a barrier to movement for a threatened rodent, the smoky mouse, Pseudomys fumeus (Rodentia :Muridae). Australian Mammalogy
Victorian threatened orchid recovery program
The implementation of Recovery Plans for more than 60 nationally threatened orchid species is well underway across Victoria. A huge range of activities are involved, and ARI staff are providing expert scientific knowledge and advice to assist recovery programs of many species. Program activities include conducting demographic censuses of orchid populations, devising and implementing measures to protect orchid populations, establishing experimental methodologies to measure the impacts of particular threats or the effectiveness of management actions, and analysing datasets to optimise management regimes. The achievements of the Victorian Threatened Orchid Recovery Program have seen it recognised as leading orchid conservation in south-eastern Australia. In 2006 this program was the proud winner of the Banksia Environmental Foundation Banksia Award in the Land and Biodiversity category.
Orchid monitoring protocols have been developed in response to the increase in monitoring conducted by regional DELWP and Parks Victoria staff, and community volunteers. These protocols include a range of techniques that allow particular questions to be addressed at a population level, while detailing methods for analysing monitoring data for a species at a statewide level. It is critical that all monitoring programs are efficient, targeted, coordinated and scientifically robust, so that data analysis and management decisions can be confidently made at a regional, population, and species level.
The results of a long-term monitoring program of Eastern Spider Orchid (Caladenia orientalis) populations found that fruiting plants were significantly smaller in the following flowering season, suggesting that there may be costs associated with reproductive effort, and that the common management practice of hand-pollinating plants to boost seed production may have a detrimental effect on individual plants. It is recommended that only a portion of plants are hand-pollinated each year. The study also showed that fire is an important element in the life cycle of this species. In the years immediately following a fire, the orchids are stimulated to flower. However, the heathland vegetation in which it occurs rapidly grows back after fire, causing a reduction in the flowering frequency of the orchids. A fire frequency of 8-12 years is recommended for the maintenance of this species.
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Results of a long-term study on the Eastern Spider Orchid and another threatened orchid the Gaping Leek-orchid are now available:
- Coates, F. and Duncan, M. (2009) Demographic variation between populations of Caladenia orientalis - a fire-managed threatened orchid. Australian Journal of Botany 57: 326-339
- Coates, F., Lunt, I. D, Tremblay, R. L. (2006) Effects of disturbance on population dynamics of the threatened orchid Prasophyllum correctum D.L. Jones and implications for grassland management in south-eastern Australia. Biological Conservation 129(1): 59-69
Threatened alpine herpetofauna
There is currently one frog and six lizard species restricted to the Victorian alpine bioregion that are considered threatened at a national and/or state level. Grazing pressure (cows and feral horses), development of ski resort infrastructure, disease, and climate change are considered potentially detrimental to existing populations. To effectively conserve these species, thorough knowledge of their distribution and ecology is required. Collection of this information has included broad-scale surveys, development of monitoring protocols and taxon-specific surveys.
With a particular focus on the Alpine She-oak Skink Cyclodomorphus praealtus, the use of artificial cover objects (roof tiles) as a survey and monitoring technique was evaluated. This involved determining the suitability of this technique as a long-term monitoring tool of known populations, its ability to detect new populations, and whether it is a viable technique for investigating the impact of threatening processes on select populations. The surveys determined detection probabilities and site occupancy for this species.
More than 50 sites were established on the Omeo Plains, Bogong High Plains, the Mt Hotham area and on Mt Buller. Alpine She-oak Skinks were detected on the Omeo Plains, Bogong High Plains, and in the Mt Hotham area, and two other threatened reptiles; Guthega Skink Egernia guthega and Alpine Bog Skink Pseudemoia cryodroma were also detected beneath tiles. The use of tiles as a survey technique is considered an effective way to gather information useful for conservation management.
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