Victoria’s biodiversity – the number of animal and plant species our environment supports – has seriously decreased over the past two centuries. The loss has come from land clearing, fire, pest plants and animals, land development, river regulation, water pollution, and more recently, reduced resilience under climate change. Many of our native species are now threatened, and native vegetation continues to be lost.

What the indicators tell us

Most biodiversity indicators are poor and trending downwards. There are 23 main indicators, but several are divided into sub-indicators, giving a total of 33 indicators. More than 20 are poor, 7 are fair and none are good. 18 indicators show deterioration, 7 are stable, and only one (private land conservation) is trending up.

Themes and indicators: How does Victoria measure up?

Invasive plants and animals

Image: http://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/3964

This theme will report on invasive (pest) terrestrial and freshwater plants and animals. These are defined as species that have been brought into a natural system by humans across a geographical barrier and are recognised as a serious threat to biodiversity. Their impacts are likely to be exacerbated by operating in combination with other emerging and ongoing threats such as climate change and habitat degradation. These animal and plant species pose a major threat to biodiversity, ecosystem health, primary production and landscape aesthetics. The terms ‘invasive’ and ‘pest’ are used interchangeably in this section of the report. Current Victorian legislation that addresses the management of invasive plants and animals includes: Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 allows weeds to be declared noxious, where the FFG Act, National Parks Act 1975 and Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004. These regulatory frameworks set out environmental objectives to manage invasive plants and animals. The IPAPF provides a whole-of-Victorian-Government approach to managing existing and potential invasive species. Marine and coastal invasive plants and animals are reported in the Marine and Coastal Environments chapter.

Threatened species

Photo: Spotted tree frog, Raelene Hobbs, Zoos Victoria

The current Holocene (or Anthropocene) extinction spike represents the sixth and latest extinction episode in the earth’s history. Human activities are the main cause of the Holocene extinction. Since European settlement, 18 mammal, 2 bird, 1 snake, 6 invertebrate and 51 plant species are known to have become extinct in Australia. Further, 6 Australian frog species have not been observed in the wild for the past 15 to 36 years, with concerns that they may be extinct.

The FFG Act provides the Victorian framework for listing threatened species; conserving threatened species and communities; and managing of potentially threatening processes. Under this legislation, there are over 700 fauna and flora species and ecological communities listed as threatened. In addition to the FFG lists, DELWP also maintains Threatened Species Advisory Lists. Currently, these include Rare or Threatened Plants in Victoria; Threatened Vertebrate Fauna and Threatened Invertebrate Fauna. The Advisory Lists do not have a legislative basis, and they include species that are considered likely to be threatened but have not been through the formal listing processes required under the FFG Act. The Advisory Lists are based on technical information and advice obtained from a range of experts, and they are reviewed periodically. The information in these lists can be used in planning processes, such as the preparation of National Park Management Plans, local government planning schemes and regional catchment strategies, and in setting priorities for actions to conserve biodiversity.

There are no direct legal requirements or consequences that flow from inclusion of a species in an Advisory List, although they are afforded some protection through Victoria's Native Vegetation Management Framework. Also, some of the species in these advisory lists are also listed as threatened under the FFG Act. The FFG Act Threatened List only includes species and communities that have been nominated, assessed by the Scientific Advisory Committee and approved for listing by the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change and the Minister for Agriculture.

The increase in the number of Victorian flora and fauna species and ecological communities listed as threatened is due to 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 alternation to flows and temperatures in rivers and streams. Competition for resources and predation by introduced species (such as foxes, rabbits, deer and carp) has had a significant effect on many native species.

In 2018, Victoria signed the Intergovernmental Memorandum of Understanding Agreement on a Common Assessment Method for Listing of Threatened Species and Threatened Ecological Communities (CAM MoU). The CAM MoU requires signatory parties to adopt the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species categories and criteria through legislative reform, to establish a single operational list of threatened species in each jurisdiction and to collaborate in the assessment and periodic review of the conservation status of native species in Australia.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species provides taxonomic, conservation status and distribution information on plants, fungi and animals that have been globally evaluated using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria. This system is designed to determine the relative risk of extinction, with the main purpose to catalogue and highlight those plants, fungi and animals that are facing higher risk of global extinction. Applying the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria can assess and determine whether plants, fungi and animals are: Data Deficient, Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct, Extinct in the Wild or Not Evaluated. DELWP is midway through a project to reassess all currently listed Victorian rare and/or threatened species, according to the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria, including species listed in the FFG Act Threatened List and the DELWP Advisory Lists. Apart from yielding a single, comprehensive list of Victorian threatened species, this work will also provide the baseline for key targets in Biodiversity 2037. This new list will not be comparable to the current DELWP Advisory Lists, creating a new baseline for future trend reporting. An update on this new comprehensive Victorian threatened species list will be made available in 2019.

At the time of writing this report, DELWP was leading a review process for the FFG Act. This review process included public consultation which informed the development of reforms to the FFG Act, resulting in the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Amendment Bill.

Protecting Victoria's biodiversity

Freshwater biodiversity

This theme will report on freshwater ecosystem health and management. Freshwater ecosystems are defined here as all terrestrial aquatic systems including rivers (streams, creeks and tributaries) lakes, wetlands and ponds that are not estuarine or marine (see Marine and Coastal Environments chapter). Freshwater ecosystems support environmental values such as native animals (including fish, riparian vegetation, bird habitat and drought refuges) and provide habitat for rare and threatened species. These freshwater systems provide water for food and energy production, purify drinking water, provide spaces for recreation and play an important role in flood and erosion control. For an assessment of water quality and resources, refer to the Water Quality and Water Resources chapters.

Biodiversity 2037 indicators

This theme will report on indicators that have been developed for Biodiversity 2037. These indicators include: Change in suitable habitat, Landscape scale change and Net gain in extent and condition of native vegetation. These indicators are assessed through new methodologies and will provide baselines for future status and trend analysis. Due to these new methodologies, it is not possible to continue previous trend analysis provided in SoE 2008 and 2013 reports. Trend analysis reported for Biodiversity 2037 indicators are based on time-period data provided by the data custodian, which varies across each indicator.

More detail

Background

Healthy land, water and biodiversity are essential for the health and wellbeing of all Victorians. For example, providing ecosystem services such as clean air, drinking water, improved soil health for food production and human to nature contact resulting in a variety of health benefits. A healthy Country is fundamental to the cultural, spiritual, physical and economic wellbeing of Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians.

Victoria’s terrestrial area covers 22.8 million hectares, with public land making up 8.4 million hectares or 37% of the state. Public land includes all Crown land and land owned by Victorian Government entities and excludes private freehold land, land owned by local councils and Commonwealth land. The 2017 Victorian Environmental Assessment Council (VEAC) Assessment of Public Land found that terrestrial biodiversity values were highest on public land, with over 70% categorised as having the highest biodiversity values. Victoria’s protected area system supports 40% of the highest biodiversity values on less than 20% of public land.

Biodiversity in this chapter is defined as the diverse range of native animal and plant species that create ecological communities (habitats) that form Victoria’s natural environment. Local and international tourism contributes $26 billion to Victoria’s economy annually. Of this, $1.4 billion is spent visiting Victoria’s parks to experience the state’s natural environment. This generates $1 billion gross value added to Victoria’s economy, while supporting 14,000 jobs across the state. Biodiversity is also essential for Victoria’s agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors, which economically contribute approximately $8 billion, comprising 2.8%, of the annual Gross State Product. Biodiversity research also attracts significant investment from multiple research institutions, where on average 215 research permits are issued annually for land managed by Parks Victoria. This research contributes to a greater understanding of Victorian biodiversity while supporting local community economies.

Victoria has experienced extensive biodiversity loss over the past two centuries due to land clearing, fire, pest plants and animals, land development, river regulation, water pollution and, more recently, reduced resilience under climate change. This loss and degradation impacts the supply of essential ecosystem services, posing a potential risk to sectors dependent on functioning ecosystems and the future health, wellbeing and prosperity of all Victorian communities.

Victoria’s native species are integral to the functioning of Victoria’s natural and agricultural systems. Due to the cumulative physical pressures, and a historically fragmented approach to policy investment and management implementation, many of Victoria’s native species are now considered threatened.

Native vegetation continues to be lost at approximately 4,000 habitat hectares per year. Native vegetation clearing has created fragmented and degraded habitats across Victoria. Reduced extent and quality of native vegetation increases risk, vulnerability and exposure of native animals and plants to other pressures and threats.

Victoria has the highest number of threatened species by subregion in Australia. Since European settlement there has been a progressive rate of native animal and plant extinction with Victoria losing 18 mammal species, 2 birds, 1 snake, 3 freshwater fish, 6 invertebrates and 51 plants. Conserving habitats and connecting fragmented native vegetation to create nature corridors that allow species movement will minimise the vulnerability of Victoria’s threatened species.

There are several overarching policy and management challenges facing Victoria’s biodiversity now and into the future, including:

  • streamlining land management units, for example: bioregions; Catchment Management Authority (CMA) regions; State Environment Protection Policy (SEPP) bioregions; forest regions; Victoria’s weed biomes; and Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) Biodiversity Response Planning regions, to present a coherent and integrated evidence base to improve management interventions and, ultimately, biodiversity outcomes

  • complementary investment in improving data capability to routinely monitor progress towards biodiversity outcomes

  • lack of coordination and a strategic approach to investing in the critical research that will enable better, and timelier, decision making and policy interventions

  • protecting native vegetation to halt habitat loss and reduce habitat fragmentation and degradation, especially on private land

  • reducing the increasing number and distribution of invasive species across public and private land and water systems that are causing habitat degradation and impacting on native species populations

  • maintaining and/or increasing populations of the growing number of threatened native species and threatened ecological communities

  • planning and implementing environmental adaptation to climate change pressures

  • annual reporting on biodiversity investment programs to increase transparency of spending and improve consistency and accuracy of results and outcomes from management actions to better understand and manage Victoria’s biodiversity

  • increasing rigour of rehabilitation programs and access to them and, as a last resort, offsetting schemes to achieve strategic biodiversity outcomes on private land

The general lack of an integrated and well-designed monitoring and assessment program to answer key biodiversity, ecological and management questions poses persistent challenges in conserving Victoria’s natural assets, including:

  • cessation of funding for long-term strategic biodiversity monitoring programs

  • disparate biodiversity datasets that are not routinely updated, reducing accessibility and utility of available data for real-time application and planning

  • lack of data making it difficult to establish the status of threatened species, specifically their abundance, population age structure and distribution

  • methodological changes and new emerging short-term funded target projects that make it difficult to determine biodiversity trends over time. While changes can improve data quality, it is often unclear whether biodiversity changes are due to actual ecological changes or increased accuracy in the methodological approach

  • difficulty in establishing the distribution and abundance of invasive plants and animals due to the lack of data

  • the need to improve poor knowledge regarding the status of reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, lichens and fungi

Current Victorian Government Settings

In 2017, the Victorian Government released Protecting Victoria’s Environment – Biodiversity 2037 (Biodiversity 2037) with the aim of stopping the decline of Victoria’s biodiversity and achieving an overall biodiversity improvement over the next 20 years. Under the two goals of ‘Victorians value nature’, and ‘Victoria’s natural environment is healthy’, Biodiversity 2037 is committed to providing an opportunity for Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians to be involved in biodiversity planning, management and decision-making; self-determination; land justice; and economic advancement. Key targets under the plan include five million Victorians acting to protect the natural environment; ensuring that endangered species will persist in natural environments; and achieving a net gain in the overall extent and condition of terrestrial, marine and waterway habitats.

Under Biodiversity 2037, State Government funding has been made available to support on-ground biodiversity action to protect and manage threatened species and communities. Incentives include:

  • 2018 Community and Volunteer Action Grants – $2.4 million for 73 projects across Victoria, with durations of between 1 and 3 years, to support communities to conserve their local biodiversity and threatened species

  • regional landscapes and targeted action – $4.7 million to fund 67 projects that include large-scale and targeted management projects to protect threatened species and research to better understand native flora and fauna conservation

  • 2018 biodiversity response planning – $35.6 million for on-ground biodiversity actions and $2.5 million for marine-targeted actions to be delivered across 3 years over 11 geographic areas

  • 2018 crowdfunding – $116,000 to match efforts of community crowdfunded projects in 2018 to support threatened species and biodiversity conservation campaigns

  • regional biodiversity hubs – $7.7 million for 26 large-scale regional hubs and associated projects to remove woody weeds, pest plants and animals and implement protection measures. Additional funding of over $1 million allocated to delivering eight urgent projects and $2 million to support intensive management actions for iconic threatened species such as the Baw Baw frog, brushtailed rock wallaby, eastern barred bandicoot, mountain pygmy possum, orange-bellied parrot, hooded plover, regent honeyeater and plains-wanderer

  • support programs – DELWP in collaboration with scientists and communities to increase and share knowledge to manage and respond to biodiversity risks, including seminars, regional events, forums and tools to complement on-ground activities.

All the above incentives, and their projects, will be assessed on how well they contribute to Biodiversity 2037 targets under the goal ‘Victoria’s natural environment is healthy’.

The Guidelines for the Removal, Destruction or Lopping of Native Vegetation aim to prevent net loss to biodiversity. The guidelines provide a three-step approach:

  • Avoid the removal, destruction or lopping of native vegetation.

  • Minimise impacts from the removal, destruction or lopping of native vegetation that cannot be avoided.

  • Provide an offset to compensate for the biodiversity impact from the removal, destruction or lopping of native vegetation.

The guidelines are an incorporated document in Victoria’s planning system, which requires a permit to remove native vegetation. The three-step approach is applied when assessing whether or not to grant a permit, and when determining the conditions on any permits granted. The Victorian Government has also reviewed the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (FFG Act) with the aim to more effectively protect Victoria’s biodiversity in the face of existing and emerging threats. The Flora and Fauna Guarantee Amendment Bill was introduced to Parliament on 23 May 2018 to amend the Act with a new framework for biodiversity protection and management, including Victoria’s native species and important habitats. The Bill was debated in the Legislative Assembly and passed without amendment. It was subsequently introduced into the Legislative Council but was not debated before the final scheduled parliamentary sitting day of the 58th Parliament of Victoria.

The Invasive Plants and Animals Policy Framework (IPAPF) represents the government’s approach to managing existing and potential invasive species across the whole of Victoria. It prioritises actions based on a biosecurity approach that aims to:

  • prevent the entry of new high-risk invasive species

  • eradicate those that are at an early stage of establishment

  • contain where possible species that are beyond eradication

  • take an asset-based approach to managing widespread invasive species.

DELWP’s Science Statement, released in 2017, outlines how DELWP will increase connectivity and discoverability and promote science across the department, with department agencies, partners, stakeholders and the community. The statement has three main foci: community participation and ownership; informing policy and operational decisions; and building blocks for the future. DELWP’s Science Statement Implementation Plan, launched in 2018, is structured on four key themes: we value and lead in science, we build our capability, we connect and collaborate, and we share. Each key theme will be delivered through priority actions during 2018, with finalisation and release of a Science Statement evaluation framework, data standards and data catalogues in 2019.

Future Focus

Improve Victoria’s Biodiversity Outcomes on Public Land

As this report demonstrates, the available data and science is inadequate to answer many of the critical questions about biodiversity condition and extent in Victoria. With such a fragmented evidence base, it is very difficult to adopt adaptive management strategies to improve biodiversity outcomes. This fragmentation has three overarching causes.

Firstly, various investment programs across multiple land management units have created different, and inconsistent, data sources and terminologies for reporting on the state of biodiversity, land and forest assets in Victoria. These inefficiencies impact on the government’s capability to present a coherent and integrated evidence base to improve management interventions and, ultimately, biodiversity outcomes. Streamlining land management units to reduce inefficiencies will assist DELWP to deliver a well-coordinated and coherent approach.

Secondly, these measures will require complementary investment in improving data capability to routinely monitor progress towards biodiversity outcomes. This will result in improved accessibility and utility of data in more meaningful timeframes for biodiversity, land and water decision-making. Improved data capability has been recognised as an ‘enabler’ in DELWP’s Science Statement for increasing connectivity and discoverability of science across the department, with partners, stakeholders and community.

Finally, Victoria’s biodiversity science and data capability, although underpinned by world-class scientists and research institutions (including the Arthur Rylah Institute), is diminished by a lack of coordination and a strategic approach to investing in the critical research that will enable better, and timelier, decision making and policy interventions. This is a critical theme that links many of the recommendations presented in this report – and the broader narrative of knowledge gaps and improving the evidence base for environmental management.

This report highlights the need for improved functionality of biodiversity science across the Victorian Government environment portfolio to improve the collection, coordination, curation and interpretation of biodiversity science. Perhaps most critical is addressing the gap of integrating biodiversity science to inform solutions to the complex problems of cumulative threats (climate change, fire, drought, flood, heatwave, invasive pests, development) and cumulative challenges (forest, water, marine and coastal management).

A Chief Biodiversity Scientist for Victoria would provide the leadership that is missing in Victoria to improve investment and coordination in biodiversity science and research. The Chief Biodiversity Scientist would report directly to the Secretary of DELWP, complement the current roles of EPA Victoria’s Chief Environmental Scientist, PV’s Chief Conservation Scientist and Victoria’s Lead Scientist, and provide the DELWP Secretary and Environment Minister with esteemed counsel on biodiversity, threatened species and the impacts of climate change, invasive pests and extreme events on biodiversity values and assets. A key function of this role would be to ensure that biodiversity research investment by the Victorian Government is targeted to management and policy priorities across the portfolio, and that the science is better curated, coordinated and tailored to improve the collective research impact of the investment, on adaptive management and on enhancing biodiversity outcomes consistent with the objectives of Biodiversity 2037 Plan.

Recommendation: That DELWP improve biodiversity outcomes on public land by streamlining and coordinating governance arrangements for investment in environmental management, monitoring and data capability of all government biodiversity investment programs. Further, that DELWP establish the position of the Chief Biodiversity Scientist to oversee this coordinated effort and provide esteemed counsel to the DELWP Secretary and Environment Minister, to improve the impact of investment in biodiversity research, across the Victorian environment portfolio.

Improve Victoria’s Biodiversity Outcomes on Private Land

The rate of biodiversity loss on private land requires greater focus and effort by government. Victoria has nearly 23 million hectares of land - public land accounts for 37% and private land 63%. Private land conservation through permanent protection has been increasing across the State. However, it occurs at a slower rate than biodiversity loss and needs to be addressed as a priority over the next decade.

Recommendation: That DELWP improve biodiversity outcomes on private land by accelerating private land conservation. This will require resourcing permanent protection measures that focus on high priority ecosystems, and landscapes, and investing in local government capability to enforce the existing Guidelines for the removal, destruction or lopping of native vegetation and Invasive Plants and Animals Policy Framework.

UN Environmental Economic Accounts

Biodiversity plays an essential role in supporting economic and social wellbeing through maintaining functioning ecosystems that produce ecosystem services. Environmental–economic accounting provides a framework to measure and link biodiversity and the ecosystem services it supports that underpin economic activity and wellbeing.

The impact of healthy or degraded biodiversity already appears to some extent in Victoria’s traditional economic accounts (the System of National Accounts (SNA)) that record goods and services such as tourism and agricultural production, which are often supported by biodiversity. However, traditional accounts do not identify the proportion of economic activity that can be attributed to biodiverse ecosystems. The System of Environmental–Economic Accounting (SEEA) extends the SNA by including environmental and ecosystem assets. For example, in 2015, Victorian parks were found to support $1.4 billion per year in visitor expenditure and generate $1 billion gross value added for the Victorian economy. Biodiversity is a key part of the visitor experience attraction of parks.

Biodiversity accounts can help illustrate the relationship between biodiversity and economic activity and wellbeing by reporting data in a spatially explicit and consistent and comparable manner. By comparing trends in biodiversity against measures such as land use, energy use, or residual pollutants such as carbon emissions or nitrogen loads it may be possible to link key drivers and pressures contributing to biodiversity loss. Biodiversity accounts have the potential to play an important role in evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of government and community management actions to protect and enhance Victoria’s biodiversity.

In experimental ecosystem accounting, biodiversity is typically considered as a characteristic of ecosystems which can be strongly linked to the ecosystem services they provide. In this context, falling biodiversity (as measured, for example, by reductions in the number of species in a given area) will generally correspond to declining ecosystem condition. A measure of biodiversity could be a relevant condition metric for ecosystem assets discussed in other chapters of the SoE 2018, such as forests or marine and coastal environment.

Biodiversity accounting is a complex and evolving area of environmental–economic accounting. Its measurement is a specialist field, and different methods for assessing biodiversity provide varying levels of accuracy and precision. Biodiversity accounting is advancing but remains less defined than other areas of environmental–economic accounting such as land, water or carbon accounting.

Species Accounts

As a component of biodiversity, species form the biotic elements of ecosystems and have an important role in how ecosystems function and deliver ecosystem services that support economic activity and human wellbeing.

Specific species can also contribute directly to economic activity and wellbeing. For instance, some species are important for providing food or medicines used by local communities and in commercial activities. Others may contribute to wellbeing due to their charismatic and iconic nature – valued on the basis of aesthetics, characteristics and behaviour – or because of the cultural status given to them.

Species accounts may support the following analytical uses:

  • comparing trends in species status with information on economic activities and other drivers of species loss

  • organising the information required to support trend analysis – for instance, via interpolation (new data points in an existing set) or forecasting

  • organising information on species for aggregation and communication across all scales

  • communicating the relationships between species, ecosystems and the supply of ecosystem services

  • providing objective statistics to report on policies related to species and ecosystems

  • exploring future trade-offs by organising species information required to support scenario modelling

  • informing cost–benefit or ecological return on investment analyses

  • supporting expert judgement on species status and trends by organising available information on the observations of species.

Australian Capital Territory Butterfly Accounts

Due to the complexities of biodiversity measurement, the focus is often placed on selected indicators of biodiversity rather than accounting for all aspects of biodiversity.

Butterflies can be used as indicators of environmental condition and change. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has recently prepared a set of novel SEEA butterfly accounts aiming to use accounting for butterflies as a metric of ecosystem condition to identify problems and guide management of ecosystems. The ACT butterfly accounts include:

  • number of butterfly species at different scales (ACT, Australia and global) at one point in time

  • snapshot of species by family with breakdown by breeding category (endemic or introduced) and specialisation (generalists able to survive in a wide range of conditions or specialists that are more localised with specific needs for survival)

  • snapshot of species focusing in classifying in a way to enable links between species and ecosystem condition and climate change (by identifying those which rely on habitats in the ACT to breed)

  • account bringing together the information in points two and three above over two periods of time, showing 9 species added over 40 years.

Lessons learned from the butterfly accounts include that, while conservation status is important, a number of other classifications are useful for understanding the management needs of species, or strategies for conservation of species. In particular, classifications of species as specialists or generalists in terms of habitat needs as well as by area of distribution and movement is important. Having these classifications standardised in future will be useful. The ACT is also planning to compare measures of ecosystem condition from remote sensing data with the butterfly accounts.

The ACT is aiming to eventually use butterfly accounts covering species presence and abundance by habitat type and season each year and between two points in time, species area of distribution by habitat and a land cover account.

Case studies

Anything but plain: the Plains-wanderer

Restoring habitat and breeding programs in captivity may be the only hope of saving a critically endangered and unique bird.

One of a kind

The Northern Plains of Victoria is one of two last remaining habitats for an extraordinary bird, the Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus). With no close relatives in the bird world, it was recently ranked fourth in the world and first in Australia in a Trust for Nature study that examined evolutionary distinctness combined with extinction risk.

Even though they were once widespread from Victoria to Queensland, fewer than 1000 of these small, ground-dwelling birds remain in the wild. Critically endangered and under imminent threat of extinction, they are threatened by the loss of their sparse native grassland habitat and the poor condition of the grassland that remains.

Preferring short, sparse grasslands that provide cover and space to forage for the seeds, leaves and insects that they feed on, the Plains-wanderers will abandon their habitat if the grass cover becomes too thick – or too sparse.

Conservation efforts in the wild and in captivity

The Plains-wanderer is one of 20 birds allocated resources for species recovery by the Australian Government. Efforts to save the bird from extinction are focused on restoring its grassland habitats and a potential long-term captive breeding program.

Zoos Victoria is one of several zoos and parks working together to establish a captive breeding program to ensure the Plains-wanderer’s survival. The initial focus of the breeding program is to establish an ‘insurance population’ for the species, but the zoos are hoping that captive-bred birds can be released to increase wild populations.

A 2017 survey at Terrick Terrick National Park found a greater area of suitable habitat for the birds than in the previous year. It also found evidence of breeding (nesting and chicks), but only in a single area. Multiple habitats must be maintained so that they can again be a home to this unique species.

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Boroondara’s backyard biodiversity

Boroondara means ‘where the ground is thickly shaded’ in the local Woiwurrung language (as spoken by the Wurundjeri people), and this municipality in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs has 343 species of native flowering plants and ferns. But 80% of them are now almost extinct in the area.

Keeping it green

The local government municipality of Boroondara boasts tree-lined streets that keep locals cool on hot summer days. Residents are proud of the leafy green public and private spaces in the neighbourhood.

But with the native plant and animal species under threat, the council decided to involve the community to help keep the area green and sustainable. The aim: boost biodiversity through planting local flora to attract more native wildlife. And so, Backyard Biodiversity was born.

The birds and the bugs

Many of the centuries-old river red gums in the area are suffering from dieback. The cause seems to be infestations of small insects eating the leaves. These leaf miners would normally be controlled by insect-eating birds such as spotted pardalotes, but these tiny birds have been chased away by aggressive honeyeaters.

The imbalance between the insect eaters and the honeyeaters is due to the loss of bird habitat and shrubby understorey in which the smaller birds can hide.

Restoring the balance

Attracting more wildlife can take just a few bushes, some local grasses and a tree in the corner to start the magic.

Backyard Biodiversity is run by council and all residents are encouraged to get involved. The program includes:

  • a welcome session with an introduction to local birds and birdwatching

  • a workshop on how to create a habitat garden for small native birds

  • a Backyard Biodiversity Garden Guide to help residents plan a garden that will attract small birds

  • community planting events

  • free plants available from an indigenous nursery.

Since 2010, council has run 13 Backyard Biodiversity programs, with more in the pipeline. More than 320 enthusiastic households across the City of Boroondara have been involved.

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Hungry urchins

Sea urchins are threatening seagrass meadows, which are vitally important for local marine life and our coastal ecosystems.

Why underwater meadows matter

South Gippsland’s Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park, just to the east of Wilsons Prom, is the only place in Victoria with large, unbroken areas of seagrass meadows. These meadows of the seagrass Posidonia australis are feeding grounds and breeding areas for local marine life. The meadows also store carbon and help prevent coastal erosion. Their importance is one of the reasons the Corner Inlet area is recognised in the international wetland conservation treaty, the Ramsar Convention.

The urchins move in

Unfortunately, the seagrass has become a favourite food of Purple Urchins (Heliocidaris erythrogramma), which usually live on rocky reefs rather than in grassy meadows. The urchin populations exploded, and ate so much seagrass that they created large areas of bare sand with no grass, or very little grass that is often shorter than it should be. These bare patches are called barrens.

No-one yet knows exactly why the urchins moved into the area and created these barrens. And because urchin barrens are unusual, with only three reported cases in Australia and only 20 in the world, there aren’t any tried and tested ways to deal with them.

Battling the barrens

Knowing they had to find a way to control the urchins to protect the seagrass, Parks Victoria surveyed the marine park between 2014 and 2016 and found such large populations of urchins they decided on a cull.

In 2017, snorkellers from Parks Victoria and Fisheries Victoria, supported by volunteers, removed 58,000 urchins by hand from two chosen sites. This successful cull has decreased urchin populations by 99.32% at one site and 80.42% at the other. Most importantly, seagrass has started to regrow.

An ongoing control program coordinated by Parks Victoria will see the team continue to monitor the seagrass and sea urchins to battle the barrens. 

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DNA: From crime fighting to wildlife sighting

While DNA might be best known for solving crimes, it can also be used to track and trace animal movements through the wilderness.

Understanding is key

Australia currently has some of the highest wildlife extinction rates in the world, and Victoria is no exception. As Victoria’s population grows, so too will the threat to our spectacular native animals.

To help protect endangered animals, scientists need to understand them better, learning more about how they live and what exactly might threaten – and save – them.

Tracking through tech

DNA testing is now being used to track and trace animal movements in the Victorian environment, especially along the Yarra River. This technology is known as environmental DNA (eDNA).

Like humans, when animals move through their environment they leave traces of their DNA. Through the flecks of skin they cast off and the strands of fur they shed, they leave an identifying mark wherever they go.

A single drop of water or a small amount of soil from a particular location can tell scientists a great deal about an animal’s presence in the environment, like where and how often they frequent an area. This is essential for monitoring numbers of endangered species.

Why eDNA

eDNA can help with rapid, sensitive and cost-effective monitoring of native species, giving scientists a better way of understanding their movements. This in turn means more effective management to protect our valuable wildlife.

The benefits of using this technology over traditional monitoring such as traps and cameras include:

  • greater sensitivity and a higher chance of detecting a species

  • more cost efficient than traditional techniques

  • higher accuracy, and therefore fewer false negatives

  • minimal environmental disturbance

  • low risk of introducing alien species and spreading disease.

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Protecting the Orange-bellied Parrot

A dedicated team is experimenting with ways to boost numbers of the critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrot.

A bird under threat

Scientists believe there are as few as 50 Orange-bellied Parrots left in the wild, with the population of this vibrantly coloured bird having dropped by more than 10% every year since 2000, making it critically endangered.

The parrot is threatened by:

  • loss and degradation of its habitat

  • climate change

  • environmental events, such as droughts

  • loss of genetic diversity and inbreeding.

The parrots breed in south-west Tasmania in the summer and then migrate to the coast of south-east Australia during the winter.

Team parrot

A recovery team has been working to save the parrot since 1983 as part of a National Recovery Plan. As well, Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) has invested heavily in programs to protect and expand the parrot’s habitat. And a network of volunteers monitors numbers of birds that winter in southern Victoria.

DELWP, Zoos Victoria and many other partners are testing different ways of increasing the numbers of Orange-bellied Parrots. One strategy is to release captive-bred parrots so that they can combine with wild birds to create new flocks.

It’s important to choose a site with suitable habitat so that the released birds will survive, but also so they’ll act as a ‘beacon’ to migrating wild parrots.

Promising early results

The first release was of 11 captive male birds  in Victoria in April 2017 at the Western Treatment Plant in Werribee. Another 15 parrots were released in Geelong in April 2018.

While none of the captive-bred birds has yet made the trip to Tasmania to breed, the project has been a success in other ways.

The majority of captive-bred birds not only survived but successfully formed a flock, and attracted wild birds to the habitat and the flock. Scientists tracked one breeding pair as they migrated from Tasmania to rejoin the Werribee flock.

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More water, more life

Water set aside for the environment has real benefits in north-western Victoria

In the dry Mallee country in north-western Victoria, the Hattah Lakes are an oasis for native animals who find food and shelter in these wetlands and floodplains. The lakes are filled seasonally by creeks connected to the Murray River, and occasionally flood. But with rainfall becoming less predictable thanks to climate change, the native fish and waterbirds are threatened by loss of habitat.

Water for the environment

Environmental water is water that's set aside in reservoirs and dams to be used for environmental purposes, such as supporting plants and animals. In the Hattah Lakes, scientists from the Arthur Rylah Institute monitored plants in the area before it was flooded with environmental water in 2014, and then every two years after.

A model for the future

Based on this research, the scientists developed a model to evaluate the effectiveness of environmental watering and predict the resulting changes to vegetation. The focus is on key plant species and plant communities so that environmental watering can be carefully planned for future.

Since the program started, the researchers found more than 80 plant species, 26 of which were rare or threatened. Some had never been recorded at Hattah Lakes before. There was an increase in native species and a reduction in non-native species. The watering also reduced the number of dryland plants invading the floodplain.

Good news for Hattah Lakes – and other wetlands

Environmental watering will be undertaken at Hattah Lakes every eight years, with benefits expected to increase. The research has shown the value of environmental watering for maintaining quality of habitat and improving tree cover not just in the Hattah Lakes but other similar areas. And the model itself can be used in the future throughout Victoria and beyond.

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Pygmy possums skating on thin ice

Multiple threats mean the Mountain Pygmy Possum is critically endangered, with fewer than 2000 left in the wild.

Cold comfort

The Mountain Pygmy Possum (Burramys parvus) is Australia’s only hibernating marsupial, spending as much as seven months of the year dormant. It is also the only marsupial to live exclusively in alpine regions, living only in areas above 1200m. These tiny animals – whose bodies are only about 10cm long – need a large amount of snow cover so they can maintain their correct body temperature over winter.

But climate change, loss of habitat and being hunted by feral cats and foxes mean they’re under threat of extinction.

Limited snowy spaces

These unique possums live in just two places in Victoria – the Bogong High Plains/Mt Hotham area and at Mt Buller (they can also be found in Mt Kosciuszko in NSW).

In Mt Hotham and Mt Buller, their habitat is shared with ski resorts, with up to one-third of their best breeding habitat affected. As well as being affected by the presence of people and infrastructure, the noise and vibration from snow-maintenance vehicles during winter can wake them from their hibernation. Waking with a shock burns up precious energy in the tiny animals, and can kill them if it happens too many times.

Further threats

Climate change is expected to mean less snowfall in fewer places in the next 30 to 70 years. This will further restrict the possum’s habitat and affect their food sources, which include caterpillars, millipedes, moths, beetles and spiders, as well as nectar from flowering alpine shrubs, seeds and berries.

While artificial snow might seem a good solution, it is unlikely to sustain the natural plants and animals of the area – including the Mountain Pygmy Possum.

During breeding season, Bogong Moths are a vital food source for the possum – and they too are under threat. Climate change is already thought to be interfering with their seasonal migration patterns, and their numbers are reducing because of the loss of their own inland native grassland habitat. There also fewer for the possums to prey on because the moths are attracted to artificial light, leading them away from the Mountain Pygmy Possums’ habitats.

Planning for the future

A national recovery plan for the possum aims to:

  • maintain and increase numbers in the wild

  • maintain and enhance the extent and condition of their habitat

  • research the biology and ecology of the species.

Over the last decade, Zoos Victoria has been running a successful captive breeding program at Healesville Sanctuary, resulting in the birth of more than 100 baby possums. In 2013  some of the zoo’s possums were reintroduced into the wild in Mt Buller and had both high survival and breeding rates.

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Healthy fish, sustainable stocks

A program to monitor fish populations and river health is providing both scientists and fishers with valuable information on the location and condition of native fish in Victorian rivers.

Report cards for native fish

Conservationists and recreational fishers now have access to information about the health of Victoria’s rivers and the status of native freshwater fish – thanks to online Native Fish Report Cards.

Using data collected by scientists and anglers on the number and size of fish caught in a particular river, the Native Fish Report Cards give a snapshot of the health and population of selected fish. This includes both fish that recreational fishers are allowed to catch and threatened species. The snapshot helps improve fisheries management and also tells anglers where recreational fish are biting.

A combined effort

The Native Fish Report Card Program is a partnership between the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and the Victorian Fisheries Authority, with input from recreational fishing license holders. It forms part of Water for Victoria, the state’s plan for managing water in response to climate change impacts and population growth.

Fish species are being monitored at 10 priority rivers, with more to be added in the future. Population data will be collected over a three-year period, with the report cards updated annually.

The report cards can be seen at the Native Fish Report Card website, which includes a mapping portal and downloadable summaries for each species in each priority river. The website also provides other resources about waterway health and recreational fishing.

INSERT PDF FILE SHOWING NATIVE FISH REPORT CARDS OR TAKE IMAGES FROM THE WEBSITE

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Saving the Baw Baw Frog

Scientists are racing against the clock to prevent a unique species of Australian frog from being wiped out by a highly contagious amphibian disease.

A unique amphibian

Small and dark brown with black flecks and irregular light patches on its skin, the Baw Baw Frog (Philoria frosti) lives exclusively within the Baw Baw National Park, 120km east of Melbourne. It is found on the Mt Baw Baw plateau in an area of around 80km2 where the vegetation is mainly wet heathland and woodland and the climate is cool and temperate. Unlike most frogs, the Baw Baw Frog evolved to thrive in a cold climate and lives under the snow in winter, where it lies dormant.

Frogs versus fungus

Over the last 35 years, the Baw Baw Frog population has declined significantly, most probably due to chytridiomycosis, a highly contagious fungal disease responsible for large declines in numbers of amphibians worldwide.

When researchers surveyed the Baw Baw plateau in the 1980s, they found thousands of Baw Baw Frogs. Today, scientists estimate that there are only a few hundred left in the wild and that the species will be extinct in five to 10 years’ time without human intervention.

Scientists to the rescue

Efforts are underway to save the Baw Baw Frog from extinction. Since 2010, scientists at Zoos Victoria have been researching breeding and husbandry techniques in an effort to raise, maintain and breed Baw Baw Frogs in captivity. The project aims to collect live Baw Baw Frogs, especially females to secure the genetics of the wild population, establish a semi-wild population, and begin a trial reintroduction of captive-bred frogs into the wild.

At the same time, researchers from Deakin University have been studying where the chytrid fungus pathogen can be found across the Baw Baw region to identify low-risk areas where frogs raised in captivity by Zoos Victoria could be reintroduced.

In October 2018, Zoos Victoria had a breakthrough in its breeding program, when the first viable Baw Baw Frog eggs were laid in captivity. These eggs will be reintroduced to a chytridiomycosis-free location on Mt Baw Baw and the resultant frog population will be closely monitored.

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Keeping native bees buzzing

Our neighbourhoods have the potential to feed and home many of our native bees – but to keep them happy we need to know what habitats they like.

A vital service

Native Australian bees are a crucial part of Australia’s ecosystems. They pollinate native plants, some of which can’t be pollinated by introduced species. And studies from the CSIRO and the Australian Native Bee Research Centre suggest that native bees are even better pollinators than their introduced cousins.

What do native bees like?

Researchers wanted to know where most native bees could be found, and the most important habitat for them in cities. They examined bee communities in three types of green spaces in urban areas:

  • golf courses

  • public parks

  • front gardens and streetscapes in residential neighbourhoods.

The most native bees, and the greatest variety of bee species were found in public parks. European honeybees dominated residential neighbourhoods.

Public parks and the ‘out of play’ areas of some golf courses had fewer introduced plant species compared to residential areas and the tended parts of golf courses. They were also less intensively managed. This combination of more native plants and less management provides more habitat for native bees.

Give them what they want

The results show the importance that urban areas can play in contributing to conservation. In this case, urban areas need to be included in pollinator conservation initiatives. Increasing the amount and types of native plant species in all green spaces in urban areas – including home gardens – would help boost bee numbers.

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The equine effect

A new action plan aims to stop the damage feral horses are inflicting on some of Victoria’s most sensitive environments.

Carving up the mountains

While ‘brumbies’ have a romantic place in Australian folklore, the reality is that feral horses seriously damage the landscape, especially Victoria’s sensitive alpine areas.

As well as grazing on native plants, which means there is less for the local wildlife to eat, feral horses degrade natural habitats, trampling the ground with their hard hooves and fouling waterways. The damage they do increases the rate of erosion and makes it harder for bushfire-affected ecosystems to recover. Areas trampled by horses have fewer plant species and more non-native weeds.

Too much of a bad thing

A 2014 aerial survey estimated that there were about 2350 feral horses in the Eastern Victorian Alps and a much smaller population of up to 80 in the Bogong High Plains.

The horses don’t distinguish between national parks, state forests, reserves and private land. And they don’t avoid those habitats that are crucial to the survival of threatened species. The high numbers of feral horses and their impact on the environment is causing severe long-term harm to endangered native alpine wildlife and plant species.

Holding the horses

Following extensive consultation with the community, environmental groups and other stakeholders, Parks Victoria developed a Strategic Action Plan to control feral horse numbers in the Alpine National Park. The plan was released in June 2018.

As a result of community feedback, the plan focuses on passive trapping, with rehoming the horses the main priority. Community consultation revealed that many people didn’t understand the size of the problem and didn’t see feral horses as pests. Once informed about the issues, they generally supported population management as long as it used mustering and fertility control, not culling. Parks Victoria hopes to capture and rehome approximately 400 feral horses each year.

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More dingoes, fewer foxes

While we often assume that fires are universally bad for animals, research suggests that some animals and ecosystems might benefit.

The effect of fire

The dingo is Australia’s only apex predator, but has disappeared from many parts of the country. A 2018 Charles Sturt University and Deakin University study looked at the effect of fire on dingoes. It also examined what would happen to other animals when dingo populations changed, particularly the introduced red fox, and smaller native mammals.

Predator vs predator

The study found that dingoes like to live in recently burned landscapes. The newly open habitat after a fire suits a dingo’s body shape and hunting habits.

Like dingoes, foxes are predators. They aren’t directly affected by whether there’s been fire in an area. But there is an indirect effect. Foxes are ‘mid-ranking’ predators, and can be prey for dingoes. The research found that in recently burned areas fox numbers dropped as dingo populations increased.

In many parts of the world, the presence of apex predators protects smaller mammals.The researchers thought there would therefore be an increase in numbers of the small native mammals that foxes prey on, but which dingoes ignore. They chose two examples, Mitchell’s hopping mouse and the silky mouse, and studied numbers in 21 different areas.

However, there weren’t any significant changes in the populations of these animals, suggesting that they are also prey to other mid-ranking predators such as feral cats. It is also possible that populations of other small native animals are positively affected by larger numbers of dingoes in an area.

Thinking about the environment means thinking about predators

Even without the expected rise in the populations of the two native mice studied, the research confirmed that environmental disturbance such as fire can create conditions that suit an apex predator – like the dingo –  leading to a drop in numbers of invasive mid-ranking predators – like the red fox.

This study’s authors suggest that for the sake of biodiversity conservation, their findings should be kept in mind when people are managing fire and other environmental disturbances.

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Trout menace native fish

Trout are the main threat to a small Victorian fish – and more needs to be done to protect this endangered native animal.

A threatened fish

The Barred Galaxias is a small, reddish brown fish with distinct dark oval blotches on its side. It lives in the Goulburn River system in central Victoria on the Murray-Darling Basin side of the Great Dividing Range.

Introduced rainbow trout and brown trout are threatening the Barred Galaxias by preying on the smaller fish and competing with it for habitat. The Barred Galaxias is also threatened by bushfire and drought.

As a result, the Barred Galaxias is now endangered, and restricted to a small upland area of the river system. The remaining populations of fish are isolated from each other and are unlikely to be interbreeding. This limits the gene pool for the species.  

Ways to save the Barred Galaxias

A national recovery plan for the fish has seen trout removed from waters upstream of the  Barred Galaxias’ habitat, and barriers have been installed to prevent more trout from entering the waterways.

After the 2009 bushfires, 394 adult Barred Galaxias were removed from affected waterways and held in captivity while the vegetation around the catchment recovered.

In another effort to boost numbers of the fish, they were reintroduced at six new suitable sites (out of the 216 assessed).

More to be done

While progress has been made, the fish are still under threat from trout potentially breaching the barriers, or being reintroduced by recreational fishers. Once they are in the Galaxias’ waterways their numbers can quickly increase.

More needs to be done to prevent trout populations growing. As well, more work is required rehabilitate the Galaxias’ natural habitat. Efforts to rehabilitate streams often focus on large recreational fish species rather than small, but important, natives.

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Saving Sale wetlands from a Carp invasion

When the Sale Common wetlands were threatened by huge numbers of European Carp, Parks Victoria called on fisheries agencies to help launch a rescue mission.

The importance of the Sale Common wetlands

The Sale Common Nature Conservation Reserve is the only freshwater wetland within the Gippsland Lakes and the last freshwater wetland on the Latrobe River system. It’s an area of international importance (the Gippsland Lakes are listed in the international convention for the preservation of wetlands known as Ramsar), as well as a popular natural attraction for locals and visitors.

The Sale Common is home to a variety of native and migratory birds and native aquatic animals, including platypus, water rats and crustaceans. It is also a commercial fishery, harvesting of eels for eating and European Carp for the fertiliser industry.

The dual dangers of black water and carp

In times of natural flooding, carp enter the wetlands from the La Trobe River and happily coexist with native species. However during dry periods when water levels recede, carp de-oxygenate the water, threatening the long-term health of the wetlands and billabong.

In mid-2018, following a prolonged dry period, the Sale Common Nature Conservation Reserve was under threat of a black water event. This is where water containing elevated levels of dissolved organic carbon flows back into the wetlands and billabong from inundated flood plains.

Fishers to the rescue

In response to the imminent black water event and the dangerous volume of carp in the billabong, Parks Victoria undertook an eight-day program to remove the carp from the Sale Common Nature Conservation Reserve.

Commercial fishers were brought in to catch the carp using an electro fishing method that allowed them to avoid landing other aquatic animals in the process. In all, 25 tonnes of carp were removed and shipped frozen to a National Carp Control Plan site for the development of fish meal and other products.

The carp removal program required cooperation with other government agencies including the Victorian Fisheries Authority, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority.

Although there are still some carp left in the billabong, the program has resulted in improved water clarity and ensured the long-term health and biodiversity of the wetlands.

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Getting to know the Leadbeater’s Possum

Surveying the Leadbeater’s Possum’s habitat has helped scientists understand more about the critically endangered marsupial, and how to protect it from extinction.

Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/takver/

Home sweet home

The tiny Leadbeater’s Possum – Victoria’s animal emblem – is critically endangered. It was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1961 near Marysville. It lives in the montane ash forests of Victoria’s central highlands, but its habitat is under threat, especially from logging and bushfires.

The possum needs large trees with hollows to make its home, and dense vegetation in the lower levels of a forest so it can move easily and forage for food. Without these trees, the possum would not survive.

https://youtu.be/y2qQC8bm8Ss

G’day possums

In 2013 the Victorian government set up the Leadbeater’s Possum Advisory Group, which was co-convened by Zoos Victoria and the Victorian Association for Forest Industries. The group advised that to protect the possum, no trees should be logged within 200 metres of where a colony of possums had been recorded in the previous decade or so.

The group also recommended further research, including finding out if there were other colonies that hadn’t been found before, and if so where they were located.

To do this, scientists from the Arthur Rylah Institute designed an extensive survey. In 2014, with the help of arborists, they placed cameras in trees and lured the possums with creamed honey.

They chose trees where they thought possums were likely to be found – and they were right. More than half the places they installed cameras had possums nearby.

In the last year of the survey, they placed cameras in random locations throughout the forest. Even with this random approach, there were Leadbeater’s Possums located at 37% of the surveyed sites. And this included parts of the forest that had been burnt in the 2009 bushfires.

From survey to protection

More than 200 colonies were found over the three years of the survey. All these new-found colonies are now also protected from logging by the recommended 200m exclusion zone.

The survey also helped scientists understand where the possums live and how they behave. This knowledge will be used when future conservation and management plans are developed to protect the Leadbeater’s Possum.

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Why fish need trees

With aquatic biodiversity threatened by climate change, water use and intensive land use, trees can help improve water quality in streams and protect Victoria’s fish.

Data driven understanding

A group of Victorian scientists used data from 20 years of biological monitoring — from 1990 to 2009 — to see how climate and the amount of vegetation around water catchments affected the numbers and types of fish in Victorian waterways.

The scientists, from EPA Victoria, Arthur Rylah Institute and Monash University, also wanted to identify land-management practices that might help lessen the negative effects of climate change on freshwater ecosystems.

Fewer trees means fewer fish

The data showed that water quality in streams was consistently better if they had upstream catchments with extensive native tree cover, as well as intact vegetation on and in the adjacent wetlands. In those streams, better water quality resulted in larger and more diverse fish populations.

The amount of vegetation around catchments influences a range of factors, including:

  • supplies of water, energy (light and organic matter), nutrients and sediments to running water habitats

  • channel form and habitat structure

  • population dynamics for species with non aquatic life-stages.

This was true even during severe drought.

Protecting our aquatic ecosystems

Climate scientists expect we will experience reduced rainfall or increased variability in rainfall in the future, as well as more frequent and intense weather events such as droughts. All of this will mean reduced water flow in rivers and streams, resulting in lower quality water and a loss of aquatic habitat for fish and other animals.

The data clearly showed that, in these important ecosystems, vegetation around waterways, especially catchments, has a positive effect on water quality. Carefully managed planting of native trees and other vegetation might protect the animal and plant life of Victorian waterways from the worst impacts of climate change.

The Platypus Highway

What can we learn from studying the traffic along the Platypus Highway – also known as the Yarra River?

Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/psjeremy/

Best job ever?

Melbourne Water’s Waterwatch Coordinator Dr Tiana Preston has an enviable job – roaming up and down the Yarra in search of the platypus, one of Australia’s favourite native animals. The Yarra is a hotspot for biologists and wildlife lovers to learn more about how these shy animals breed, feed and play.

Platypuses under threat

Platypuses are feeling the heat when it comes to climate change. But that’s not the only problem – there’s a whole mix of human-induced and natural changes to this sensitive animal’s environment, all of which are threatening platypus numbers. Drought, floods, altered waterflows, clearing vegetation, dams and weirs, poor fishing practices, litter and predation can all be lethal.

Scientists still know little about this unique animal. We need to find out more about the platypus to help ensure its survival. Scientists like Tiana visit the Platypus Highway to understand more about these sweet but shy creatures. And monitoring along the Yarra River and its tributaries shows that litter control is critical if we’re to maintain population numbers.

Put it in the bin  

Tiana works with Melbourne Water teaching people about the impact litter can have on platypuses. Even small pieces of litter can be lethal. Hair bands especially can drift into waterways and get tangled on a platypuses’ beak, stopping the animal from being able to eat.

A victory for the platypus

Opera nets (fishing nets that resemble the Sydney Opera House) are particularly dangerous. They trap platypuses, stopping them from going back to the surface to breathe. Once trapped, the animal will eventually drown. Victoria has now banned the use of opera nets in public and they will be banned in private waters from 1 July 2019.

Fishers can trade in their old opera house nets for free open top lift nets which aren’t a danger to platypuses.

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