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Places to enjoy on your road trip - Woodanilling Pioneer Heritage Trail

The town of Woodanilling was first gazetted in 1892, not far from the watering hole called Round Pool. The town is in a sheep and grain producing area and was named after a spring in the Boyerine Creek, 1 km south of town.  Woodanilling is a Noongar Aboriginal word meaning place of little fishes. It is approx 37km from Albany Highway turnoff.  Well worth a detour to break up your trip.

Image Credit:  Shire of Woodanilling

Image Credit:  Shire of Woodanilling

The very first settlers came to the area looking for pastures on which to graze their sheep. Later, cutters poured into the district and decimated the sandalwood tree population.

In 1904 the railway station was the freight leader for the region, transporting mallet bark, sandalwood, grain, wool and goods for the local shops and businesses on the big old steam trains.

In the early 1900s, 800 people lived in the Shire, and the townsite boasted general stores, a hotel, banks, a hospital, a road board office, a post office, a bakery, a blacksmith’s shop and brickworks. Today the population is on the increase again and stands at about 420 people.  

Opened in 2008, the Woodanilling Heritage Walk consists of 13 panels on a short walk around the townsite. There are old black and white photos on each panel together with all sorts of stories about our people and places. Heritage Walk colour guides are available at the Shire council offices.

Source: Hidden Treasures.

"Woodanilling Pioneer Heritage Trail" Guide Brochures can be collected free from the Woody Shire Offices.

Places to enjoy on your road trip - King Rock

Located to the north west of the Woodanilling Shire, between Boyerine and Cartmeticup, the rock has a large flat face at the summit sloping to the north, the highest point is in excess of 340 metres above sea level.

Image Credit: Woodanilling Shire 

Image Credit: Woodanilling Shire 

The name has probably been ascribed due to the size of the rock and majestic view from
the summit. Panoramic views to the north can enjoyed as far as Mt Deception.

It became a popular picnic spot for the families in the area in the 1920's. Carts and
wagons would wind their way around to the NNE corner of the rock. Here, at the foot of
the rock, games and other social activities would take place.

The reserve has abundant wildflowers and is thickly timbered with sheoaks and jam trees.
It is also the most easterly site of the Shire where red gums (eucalyptus marri) grow. Part
of the reserve was used as a Shire gravel pit. This has since been rehabilitated.

The site is a prominent natural feature of the landscape

The site is significant as a recreational site for early settlers. The area surrounding the
rock is also notable as a flora and fauna sanctuary.

 

Source: State Hertiage WA

Places to enjoy on your road trip - Queerearrup Lake

You will find this salt lake about 30 kms west of the Woodanilling townsite, on Queerearrup Road along Douglas Road, approx 37km from Albany Highway turnoff. The lake has a pink tinge to it due to the caroten microbes.

Image Credit WHERE IS WITCHWAE

Image Credit WHERE IS WITCHWAE

Woodanilling is prided on its peaceful surrounding and its ability to get close to nature, and has been recognised as a popular area for bird watching and possess many locations bursting with native and rare wildflowers and flora.

Located northwest of Woodanilling, Queerearrup lake in its former glory offered a large variety of recreational and leisure activities from skiing, swimming and picnic areas. The lake has a significant historical value to Woodanilling. However, due to falling water levels the lake is no longer used as a skiing or swimming location, although native flora and fauna, including black swans can still be admired throughout the reserve.

We need to tighten the law to protect wildlife homes

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The critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possums is just one of Australia’s animals threatened by habitat loss. Greens MPs/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
Don Anton, Griffith University

Three recent reports make clear that we should be saving habitat in order to save species. It is pretty simple. Destroy a species’ habitat and you destroy its home.

The first report was issued last week by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Birdlife Austrlia and Environmental Justice Australia*. Its take away message is that in Australia we will do little to halt the continuing threat to and extinction of species here until we get serious about providing effective legal protection to habitat.

The second report accompanied an update of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species at the end of June. It highlighted that the main threat to 85% of the 22,784 known and assessed species threatened with extinction (1,839 in Australia) is the loss and degradation of habitat.

The third study, also published at the end of June, was even more disturbing. It found that over the last century the extinction rate for many species was 100 times faster than usual and that we are heading into a human-created sixth mass extinction on Earth. It blamed this on habitat destruction, as well as climate change, trade, and pollution.

Without an adequate home, a species cannot survive. Of course, stressing the need to protect habitat is much easier said than done. Why is that? It largely comes down to three obstacles that have been intractable so far.

Where threatened species are found in Australia. Environmental Resources Information Network (ERIN), Department of Environment

Protecting species, but not their homes

First, the law in Australia does not protect habitat per se. It only protects species. It does this through a process of listing and then making it an offence to kill or take the listed species. Listing species alone, however, does nothing to protect habitat.

It is true that it is possible to list critical habitat under Commonwealth law and various state laws. That has largely been ignored. The problem has been a persistent lack of political will.

Politicians are reluctant to list habitat because it means that parcel of land will be off limits to development. That is something most politicians seek to avoid in pursuit of short-term economic benefits.

Second, protecting habitat is subject to politics. Even when a species is listed, it is possible for governmental decision-makers to exercise discretion and permit a development, even if it will threaten the species.

A decion-maker will be required to consider a number of factors (ordinarily environmental, economic, and social impact) in exercising his or her discretion.

However, if these factors are appropriately ventilated, then the law allows the discretion to be exercised against a threatened species. What we have in these sorts of cases is environmental law without necessarily environmental protection.

It becomes a matter of right process and the only remedy for those dissatisfied when the process has been followed is at the ballot box.

Third, protecting habitat is economically tough. David Attenborough, the famous environmental documentary presenter, has highlighted that humans are in competition with the other species for space on this finite planet.

He correctly observed that it will take a great deal of willpower and economic strength to fix things. The questions for us is, do we have what it takes? Or, will we leave future generations with an environment less rich, less diverse than the one we inherited?

Tighter regulation, more money

The ACF report recommends that in Australia we start by improving recovery plans for species. In particular, ACF maintains that recovery plans must contain “measurable and targeted restraints on the destruction of threatened species habitat and outline restorative outcomes that any approval decisions must work toward”.

The ACF recognises this will not be cheap. It calls for an annual investment of A$370 million to implement recovery plans and purchase land for protected areas.

To follow the recommendation would be to start to seriously protect habitat. It would only be a start though.

Much would depend on whether the new recovery plan arrangements deprived decision-makers of discretion to allow the destruction of habitat despite protection.

Much would depend on where and how much habitat was set aside. Much would depend on the sufficiency of funding. Still, it is a start and you have to start somewhere. One thing is certain, we should start now.

The Conversation*This sentence was updated to include the other contributors to the report.

Don Anton, Professor of International Law, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

National parks are vital for protecting Australia’s endangered plants

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There are fewer than a thousand Graveside gorge wattles in Kakadu National Park. Parks Australia
Linda Broadhurst, CSIRO

Norfolk Island, nearly 1,500km from Australia’s east coast, is home to one of the country’s most endangered species, but you probably haven’t heard of it. Clematis dubia, a woody climber with white and hairy flowers, was known to number only 15 mature plants in 2003.

Once common on the island, this clematis illustrates what stands in the way of survival for many of our threatened plants. Around 84% of Australia’s native plants don’t occur anywhere else on Earth.

Threats to our native plants include ongoing habitat destruction, fire, invasive species, more frequent extreme weather events, and declining populations of the animals involved in their pollination and seed dispersal.

Clematis dubia is lucky to call Norfolk Island National Park home. Our national parks are places of beauty and adventure for us to enjoy. They are also a haven for many species.

But life in a national park doesn’t guarantee a species’ survival. Recently we assessed 41 endangered or significant plants that occur in Australia’s six Commonwealth National Parks, to identify ways to help these plants recover.

We found that many of these species don’t occur outside national parks, meaning the parks play a huge role in their conservation. Few of these species have been secured in living plant collections or seed banks, and very few are regularly monitored in the wild.

We have little information on either the impacts of threats or of species biology, which limits our ability to secure these species against further loss.

There were only 15 mature Clematis dubia on Norfolk Island known in 2003. Parks Australia

Threats to plants

Clematis dubia lives in small and isolated populations. It faces many perils of modern life, like invasive weeds. We understand very little of its biology, including how its seeds are dispersed, how long it takes to start producing seed, and even how long it lives.

Another plant we assessed was the Graveside Gorge wattle (Acacia equisetifolia) found in Kakadu National Park. A small shrub, less than a metre tall with small yellow flowers, this wattle is listed as critically endangered.

Fewer than a thousand plants are growing in only two locations about a kilometre apart in a restricted area of the park. There is little information on the basic biology of this shrub.

Like other acacias, Graveside Gorge wattle is probably pollinated by, and provides food for, a variety of different insect species. It probably only reproduces sexually and its seeds might be dispersed by ants and probably germinate after fires. The main threat to this species is fires, especially ones that are too frequent or too intense.

As a safeguard against extinction, Parks Australia has collected seed from the Graveside Gorge wattle, which is now stored in the National Seed Bank at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra.

Hibiscus brennanii is a vulnerable shrub found in Kakadu National Park. Parks Australia
Jenny Hunter, Kakadu ranger, collecting Hibiscus brennanii seed for the seed bank. Parks Australia

Seed banking can extend the longevity of seeds to hundreds of years, protecting a species from extinction and helping in its recovery should the worst happen. Germination trials at the National Seed Bank help unlock the often complex germination requirements of different species so that they can be regrown from seed.

As a result of trials with Graveside gorge wattle, the Gardens now has a living collection of this species. In Kakadu, Parks Australia is protecting the two wild populations by planning protective burning to create longer intervals between fires and reduce the likelihood of severe fires.

Protecting plants

Seed banking and living collections are two of the strategies we recommended to safeguard populations of threatened plant species. Some species may also benefit from establishing new populations outside national parks, similar to the management strategies used for vertebrate animals.

We also recommend surveying all endangered plant species in national parks that are not currently part of a formal monitoring program or that have not been surveyed within the past two years.

Finally, realising the gaps in our knowledge of the biology of and threats to many of Australia’s threatened plants, we recommend partnering with researchers and NGOs with restoration experience to draw on available scientific and on-the-ground knowledge.

And what of Norfolk Island’s endemic climbing clematis, Clematis dubia? Along with the low number of individuals, competition from weeds is a major threat to the survival of this species, so conservation efforts by Parks Australia have involved intensive weed control work, particularly to deal with the invasive guava plant.

Recent searches in likely habitat have revealed an additional 33 plants, a mix of adults and juveniles. Happily, new seedlings are now showing up in areas where guava has been removed, improving the future prospects for this species.


The ConversationThe report Constraints to Threatened Plant Recovery in Commonwealth National Parks was funded by the Australian Government through the Threatened Species Commissioner, Gregory Andrews. It was authored by researchers at the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research, a joint initiative between Parks Australia’s Australian National Botanic Gardens and CSIRO.

Linda Broadhurst, Director, Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Still here: Night Parrot rediscovery in WA raises questions for mining

A group of four birdwatchers from Broome has photographed Australia's most mysterious bird, the night parrot, in Western Australia.

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The photo that confirms the Night Parrot’s existence in Western Australia. Bruce Greatwitch, Author provided
Robert Davis, Edith Cowan University

The Night Parrot is unquestionably one of Australia’s most enigmatic, elusive and enthralling species. The final frontier of Australian ornithology, this cryptic parrot eluded dedicated expeditions to find it for nearly half a century.

Last week, a momentous chapter in the Night Parrot story was written, with the first photograph of a live Night Parrot in Western Australia. The photos come in the wake of several other recent sightings, including the parrot’s rediscovery in Queensland in 2013.

Despite media reports, the parrot has never been officially listed as extinct, with sporadic evidence of its existence throughout the 20th century.

But now we know for sure that the parrots are alive and found across the continent, we can move on to making sure they remain so in the future.

Mystery bird

We know that Night Parrots favour spinifex or tussock grasslands, often close to inland wetland systems. But the areas of potential habitat are vast throughout inland Australia.

The Night Parrot has been listed as endangered in the Action Plan for Australian Birds since 1992. It is listed as endangered under federal legislation.

It has never been listed as “presumed extinct” or “extinct”. Reliable ongoing reports and the well-known cryptic nature of the species meant that the ornithological community considered it likely to have survived, albeit incredibly hard to spot.

The Night Parrot has been known to exist in WA since at least 2005, when a colleague and I clinched the first peer-accepted sighting in recent Australian history during an environmental impact assessment for the Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) Cloudbreak mine.

Fortescue Marshes, where the Night Parrot was first seen again in WA in 2005. Robert Davis

This was by no means the first sighting of Night Parrots in WA, with regular and reliable reports since at least the 1980s. But until 2005 none had provided sufficient detail to eliminate other possibilities. Further sightings have been monitored at another location in the arid zone since 2009 and that work is pending publication.

The significance of the latest find is immense. A dedicated team of birdwatchers (Adrian Boyle, Bruce Greatwich, Nigel Jackett and George Swann) has confirmed the existence of a population in WA. The discovery, resulting from a well-planned expedition, is the start of a real dialogue about Night Parrot conservation in WA.

The latest record cements the fact that Night Parrots are present at several locations in WA and potentially throughout arid Australia, including in regions rich in mineral resources.

In contrast to the Queensland populations, which have so far been found in national parks and pastoral leases, the WA situation sets up a quandary for how to manage development, Night Parrots and mining.

Mining and conservation

Our 2005 sighting was important because, given the parrot’s endangered status, FMG was required to provide offsets for potential disturbance to Night Parrot habitat. The offsets included avoiding areas of likely habitat on the Fortescue Marshes, and funding follow-up surveys throughout the areas surrounding the proposed mine. These unfortunately did not find further evidence of Night Parrots.

Research offsets from FMG also funded the writing of a national research plan for Night Parrots. This was later followed by on-ground research on Night Parrots at Pullen Pullen Reserve in Queensland, the population found by naturalist John Young in 2013.

Recent developments by other WA resource companies have seldom considered Night Parrots. My personal experience is that surveys usually look for endangered mammals such as Northern Quolls and Bilbies, but rarely search properly for Night Parrots. This is likely due to two main reasons.

The first is the incredibly cryptic nature of the Night Parrot. Clearly the species has evaded detection for so long because it is difficult to find.

The second is what I term “the Thylacine factor”. The only equivalent species in Australia that has the same degree of scepticism and mythology is the Thylacine.

Thylacines have (so far) not been rediscovered. But developers, consultants and regulators take the same attitude to Night Parrot sightings. The parrots are often seen as a mythical animal that doesn’t exist. The idea of looking for them is met with mirth.

Finding the parrots

Recent findings from research by Steve Murphy in Queensland, and other recent work in WA, are slowly providing us with the tools to overcome both of these issues. With better knowledge of their specific habitat requirements, including a need for long-unburned grasslands close to water sources, we can reduce the daunting challenge of Night Parrots potentially existing anywhere that spinifex is found.

Fire is one of the threats facing the Night Parrot. Robert Davis

The recent release of calls from the Queensland population and a new recording of calls from the WA population provide the most powerful tool yet for doing surveys. Playing back the calls can be used to elicit a response from any Night Parrots in the area. The call can also be used to identify calls from deployed remote recording devices.

As more populations are discovered and more evidence becomes available, this will help convince the public and decision-makers that the parrots are (hopefully) found across a wide range and need careful management, despite the difficulty of observing them.

The ConversationLet’s hope government bodies will strongly enforce the requirement to search for Night Parrots in all areas of potential habitat within their known current and historic range. This should ensure that we don’t lose any parrots before they are even found.

Robert Davis, Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Biology, Edith Cowan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian endangered species: White-bellied Frog

The White-bellied frog (Geocrinia alba) is a small frog in the family Myobatrachidae. It occupies an area near Margaret River in swampy depressions adjoining creeks. Threats from altered ecology have made this a critically endangered species of Southwest Australia.

Altered ecology and changing land use have led to a status of 'critically endangered' of extinction. Populations occur on 'private property', exposing the habitat to cattle grazing and—since the 1990s—viticulture and eucalypt plantations. Threats such as fire and cattle can degrade vegetation surrounding the frog's habitat; damming and land clearing for viticulture or planting of introduced tree species alters the hydrology. Research has been undertaken by UWA and CALM. Funding has been allocated to provide fencing to land owners and a reserve connecting the Forest Grove and Blackwood River National Parks to assist the protection of the riparian habitat.

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The tiny White-bellied Frog lives in the swamps of south-west Australia. Perth Zoo
Dale Roberts, University of Western Australia

The White-bellied Frog (Geocrinia alba) is a tiny frog from south-west Western Australia, inhabiting a range of 130km2 between Margaret River and Augusta. It was only discovered in the early 1980s and described in 1989.

Male White-bellied Frogs call from small depressions in wet soils during the breeding season. These wet areas are formed by seepages in swamps. The eggs are laid in jelly in the same place. The eggs hatch in the jelly and develop into frogs without feeding, relying instead on the yolk in their stomachs.

The White-bellied Frog is one of four Geocrinia species found across south-western Australia’s wetter forest systems. All have similar breeding biology. Its closest relative, the Orange-bellied Frog (Geocrinia vitellina) lives nearby.

Status

The White-bellied Frog is variously listed at different levels. It is listed critically endangered on the IUCN Red List and under the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation, and as endangered under the federal government’s EPBC Act.

Perth Zoo

Whichever way you look at it the White-bellied Frog is a species at risk. Over 70% of likely habitat has been cleared and is now unsuitable for the frogs’ specific breeding needs. Its range is heavily fragmented, and movement between populations is low or non-existent. In most of them there are fewer than 10 frogs. It is no longer found in many of the places where this species was found in the early 1980s.

Threats

The main threats to White-bellied Frogs are activities that change their habitat, particularly the delicate seepages that they rely on for breeding.

Land clearing fragments the populations of frogs. It also modifies the structure of creeks. Slow-moving creeks with seepages are turned into well-defined channels which are unsuitable for breeding. Plantations of blue-gums have a different effect. By lowering groundwater supplies they cause breeding sites to dry up.

Illegal marijuana crops, which use the same wet soils as the frogs, have also disturbed the habitat. Adding chemicals and nutrients through fertilisers disrupts the growth and development of the frogs. Other agricultural impacts come from grazing, which destroys the seepages, and vineyards, which alter water supplies through damming.

White-bellied Frog tadpoles never leave the nest. Perth Zoo

Amphibian chytrid has been found in White-bellied Frog populations, and is widespread across south-west Australia. Strangely it doesn’t appear to be responsible for declines in White-bellied Frogs.

Strategy

One of the early management strategies for the White-bellied Frog was to fence off the isolated populations from livestock, allowing them to recover and maintain healthy populations.

Fire is currently excluded from land managed by the Western Australian government, but proper fire management must eventually include burnoffs. Fortunately it appears the frogs can tolerate fire. Experiments show that even if fire reduces numbers locally they do eventually recover.

A frog released back into the wild. Perth Zoo

Perth Zoo has successfully reared frogs. Frogs were raised from wild-collected eggs and released near Margaret River in 2010 and 2011. Nests in the wild suffer from predation and rearing frogs gives the frogs a better chance.

The Zoo has also successfully bred White-bellied Frogs in captivity, a significant achievement given their breeding requirements, and five of these frogs were released at the Margaret River site in 2012.

In 2000 the state and federal governments purchased a large area of private land where a number of frogs were found. This was a major breakthrough for managing the frogs and their habitat.

There’s hope for the White-bellied Frog under climate change too. The species is thought to be seven million years old (using molecular clocks), meaning it has already survived seven million years of climate upheaval. We know that its orange-bellied relative can survive disturbance such as logging, and its likely the White-bellied Frog is the same. This suggests the species will be able to survive disturbance to its habitat caused by climate change.

Conclusion

There is an interesting epilogue to the White-bellied Frog’s tale. In the 1960s and 1970s, before the frog was discovered, large areas of its range was cleared. Paradoxically this vegetation loss may have raised the water table, creating new habitat for the frog, and artificially expanded the range.

The current decline may partly reflect loss of those new populations that arose during land clearing. It goes to show that managing this species and water is a particular challenge in a region with diverse land uses.

Perth Zoo

Pictures courtesy of Perth Zoo. Perth Zoo has successfully reared, bred and released White-bellied Frogs into the wild to increase their numbers.

The ConversationThe Conversation is running a series on Australian endangered species. See it here

Dale Roberts, Winthrop Professor, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian endangered species: Western Swamp Tortoise

Adult males do not exceed a length of 155 mm or a weight of 550 g. Females are smaller, not growing beyond 135 mm in carapace length or a weight of 410 g. Hatchlings have a carapace length of 24–29 mm and weigh between 3.2 and 6.6 g.[5]

The colour of the western swamp turtle varies dependent on age and the environment where it is found. Typical coloration for hatchlings is grey above with bright cream and black below. The colour of adults varies with differing swamp conditions, and varies from medium yellow-brown in clay swamps to almost black with a maroon tinge in the black coffee-coloured water of sandy swamps. Plastron colour is variable, from yellow to brown or occasionally black; often there are black spots on a yellow background with black edges to the scutes. The legs are short and covered in scale-like scutes and the feet have well-developed claws. The short neck is covered with horny tubercles and on the top of the head is a large single scute. It is the smallest chelid found in Australia.

The only other species of freshwater tortoise occurring in the southwest of Western Australia is the narrow-breasted snake-necked turtle (Chelodina M. colliei) . It has a neck equal to or longer than its shell, making the two species from south west Western Australia easily identifiable.

The first specimen of the western swamp turtle was collected by Ludwig Preiss in 1839 and sent to Vienna Museum. There it was labelled "New Holland" and was named Pseudemydura umbrina 1901 by Seibenrock. No further collection of specimens was recorded until 1953. Glauert in 1954 named these specimens Emydura inspectata, but in 1958, Ernest Williams of Harvard University showed them to be synonyms of P. umbrina, collected by Preiss

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The Western Swamp Tortoise was rediscovered in the 1950s. Nicola Mitchell
Nicola Mitchell, University of Western Australia

The Western Swamp Tortoise (Pseudemydura umbrina) is Australia’s rarest reptile. Originally it was known only from a single specimen collected in 1839 from an unknown location in Western Australia. No others came to light until the 1950s when a Perth schoolboy found one walking across a road and took it to a wildlife show. Its significance was soon recognised, and Pseudemydura umbrina was resurrected as a living species.

With a maximum shell length of about 350mm, the Western Swamp Tortoise is the smallest Australian freshwater turtle and the only one where males are larger than females. During the winter, spring and early summer they live in temporary swamps, feeding on aquatic invertebrates. After the swamps dry in early summer they aestivate (sleep over summer) in holes in the ground or under leaf litter.

This winter/spring peak in activity is unusual for reptiles. It is also the only turtle or tortoise species where females dig the nest chamber with the fore limbs (rather than the hind limbs). Females usually lay a single clutch of three to five eggs each year. They may live for around 70 years.

Status

The Western Swamp Tortoise is listed as Critically Endangered by international, national and state authorities. The number of tortoises dropped from more than 300 in the mid-1960s to less than 50 in the mid-1980s. Since then intensive habitat management, captive breeding and translocations have increased the number to around 200.

Threats

The major threats to this species have been land clearing, swamp drainage and predation by the introduced Red Fox. Its small population size and slow rate of reproduction means that a fire or drought could be a disaster. Its rarity and uniqueness also renders it an attractive proposition for poachers.

The tortoises are also highly vulnerable to climate change. It is not increasing temperatures but declining winter and spring rainfall that is the threat. Harvesting groundwater for agricultural and urban development has limited the flow of water into swamps.

Assisted colonisation may be needed to save the tortoise under climate change. Nicola Mitchell

The tortoise breeds, feeds and grows during the hydroperiod. The hydroperiod is the period that standing water can be found in the swamps. In most swamps rainfall is now the primary source of water. Hatchlings must grow to a critical size before their first summer aestivation. Females will reabsorb their eggs or produce smaller clutches if their feeding opportunities are limited.

A hydroperiod of around six to seven months appears to be ideal for this species. In recent years hydroperiods have declined to around three months. Projections suggest a continued fall in annual and winter rainfall in Perth. There is a very real scenario that the swamps will cease to support a breeding population.

Strategy

Conservation planning for Western Swamp Tortoises has been at the forefront of conservation practice in Australia. The best habitat was set aside in 1962, captive breeding began at Perth Zoo in 1988, and a recovery team formed in 1990 was one of the first such groups in Australia. More than 500 tortoises bred at the zoo have been released into the wild. All the tortoises are now within predator proof fences or in areas that are fox baited.

Unfortunately, all sites used for translocations offer increasingly marginal habitat because of the drying climate during recent decades. Constant pumping of bore water has been necessary to maintain water levels at Twin Swamps since 2003.

Assisted colonisation has been proposed to keep this species in the wild. From a climatic perspective, south is the logical direction. A project led by the University of Western Australia suggests that the coastal regions of the southwest may provide good habitat under future climate. Controversially, these areas are well outside any likely historical range of this species. Unease about introductions of species is certainly well founded based on experiences in Australia and elsewhere.

However, this species has already been moved to new habitats, including into a “threatened ecological community”. Assisted colonisation may not be such a philosophical leap. Instead, the physical “leap” to a novel habitat requires meaningful engagement with stakeholders, careful site assessment, and adequate monitoring of released animals and their impacts on the biological community.

Conclusion

Long generation times and low genetic diversity means that Western Swamp Tortoises are unlikely to adapt quickly to a changing climate. Human intervention will be necessary to prevent their extinction in the wild.

Current conservation practices show that captive-bred tortoises can be successfully introduced into new areas. Sites that will offer good habitat in the future are urgently required. Fortunately, planning and site selection for “assisted colonisations” is well underway. They may be some of the first conducted for a vertebrate under climate change.

This article was co-authored by Dr Andrew Burbidge who has researched this species for almost 50 years. He is formerly of the Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation.

The ConversationThe Conversation is running a series on Australian endangered species. See it here

Nicola Mitchell, Associate Professor in Conservation Physiology, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian endangered species: Gilbert’s Potoroo

Gilbert's potoroo (Potorous gilbertii), sometimes called the "rat-kangaroo" or "garlgyte", is Australia's most endangered marsupial and one of the world's most endangered mammals. It is a small nocturnal marsupial which lives in small groups or colonies. It has long hind feet and front feet with curved claws which it uses to dig for food. Its body has large amounts of fur which helps with insulation, and its fur ranges between brown and grey; the color fading on its belly. This potoroo has a long, thin snout curving downward that it uses to smell its surroundings; this trait is common in all potoroo species. Its eyes appear to bulge out of its face and look as though they are on an angle and its ears are almost invisible, buried under thick fur. Male and female body types are very similar and are both within the same size range. Adult females range in weight from 708–1205 g (including pouch young where present), whereas adult males range in weight from 845–1200 g.

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Gilbert’s Potoroo: rediscovered in 1994 after nearly 100 years. Dick Walker
Elizabeth Sinclair, University of Western Australia

Gilbert’s Potoroo (Potorous gilbertii) is one of four species of potoroo. It has dense grey-brown fur, paler on the underside, with furry jowls, large eyes and an almost hairless tail. It is the smallest extant member of the genus, weighing in at around a kilogram. With a diet of over 90% underground fungi (truffles), it is one of the most fungi-dependent mammals in the world.

Like other potoroos, these animals are mainly solitary, with little overlap in home range between individuals of the same sex, although a male and a female may be found nesting together under the dense sedges in their heathland habitat, sometimes with a young-at-heel. Gilbert’s Potoroos may live ten years and reach sexual maturity at around one year of age. A female potoroo rears one young at a time, but up to three a year, so she could produce well over 20 progeny in her lifetime.

Status

Discovered near Albany in 1840 by John Gilbert, the renowned collector for British taxonomist John Gould, Gilbert’s Potoroos were never widespread. Sub-fossil remains in caves near the southwest corner show, at most, a narrow zone along the moist south coast where the marsupials lived. Rain in most months of the year supports year-round truffles in the soil.

The species was so rare by the early 1900s that it was thought to be extinct – appearing to meet the same fate as its desert-dwelling relative, the Broad-faced Potoroo (P. platyops). Remarkably it was rediscovered on the Mount Gardner headland at Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve in 1994. However extensive surveys in likely sites along the south coast failed to find any more colonies. The tiny surviving population is now 30-40 animals strong and has been the focus of intensive recovery efforts.

Threats

Captive breeding has so far failed to increase numbers of Gilbert’s Potoroo. Dick Walker
As these potoroos prefer to live in dense heaths, the greatest threat to the Two Peoples Bay population and any recovery colonies is catastrophic wildfire. Lightning strikes are common in this area during summer, often without rain to extinguish the fires. The popularity of the area with locals and tourists alike also increases the risk of fire. The rugged terrain and highly flammable vegetation would severely hamper fire-fighting efforts, although ironically the largely inaccessible habitat may have contributed to its survival. Potoroos rarely venture into open habitat, but those leaving cover risk predation by foxes and feral cats as well as native predators.

Strategy

Gilbert’s Potoroo could be lost in a single wildfire. The recovery strategy focusses on managing this risk by increasing numbers and establishing more populations. Initially, considerable effort went into attempts to breed Gilbert’s Potoroos in captivity. However, this proved unreliable, and efforts turned to assisted reproduction techniques including artificial insemination and cross-fostering using Long-nosed Potoroos (Potorous tridactylus).

Unfortunately, neither of these methods were successful. Meanwhile, regular monitoring of the wild population showed that it remained stable, and new young were born. Failure to find many of these individuals again as adults suggested that most available home ranges were taken and they were unable to establish home ranges.

So the focus of the recovery plan, which continues to protect the existing wild colony (through fox baiting and fire exclusion), shifted to establishing new colonies. With this in mind, a few wild potoroos from Mount Gardner were moved 25 km east to 800 ha Bald Island. Ten potoroos were taken from Two Peoples Bay to Bald Island between 2005 and 2007, with on-going monitoring of the tiny founding population. In 2009, the new Bald Island population had grown to over 25 animals, and six individuals were moved back to the mainland for introduction into a purpose-built 380 ha enclosure from which foxes and cats had been removed. Despite more removals back to the new mainland enclosure, by 2012, the Bald Island population surpassed 60 and there were over 20 within the new enclosure.

Conclusion

While Gilbert’s Potoroo remains arguably the worlds’ rarest marsupial, its survival and recovery so far is due to the remarkable haven provided by Two Peoples Bay, where it continues to breed naturally. Ongoing allocation of funding, particularly by the Western Australian State Government, has allowed long-term recovery goals to be realised.

This piece was co-authored by Tony Friend who heads the Gilbert’s Potoroo recovery project through the Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation

The ConversationThe Conversation is running a series on Australian endangered species. See it here

Elizabeth Sinclair, Research Associate Professor, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian endangered species: Mountain Pygmy-possum

The mountain pygmy possum was first discovered in the fossil record in 1895 when a portion of the jaw and skull bones were found in the Wombeyan Caves in central New South Wales.[3] At the time, the species was believed to be extinct. It was not until 1966 that a living individual was found at a ski resort at Mount Hotham in Victoria.[4] Since that time, the mountain pygmy possum has been located in three isolated, genetically distinct populations in the alpine regions of southern Australia

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The Mountain Pygmy-possum is clinging to existence in its alpine refuges. Hayley Bates
Hayley Bates, UNSW and Haijing Shi, UNSW

The Mountain Pygmy-possum (Burramys parvus) is one of five living species of pygmy-possum, all of which are classified within a single family. It is the largest of the pygmy-possums, and can be easily distinguished from other members of the family by its distinctive “buzz saw” premolar teeth.

Unlike most other possums, it is mainly ground-dwelling, inhabiting alpine and subalpine boulderfields and rocky scree in south-eastern Australia. Males and females spend most of the year separately. Females and their young occupy the best quality habitat.

The Mountain Pygmy-possum is also the only Australian marsupial that hibernates for long periods during the winter. Mating begins in early spring when the possums emerge from their winter sleep.

Mountain Pygmy-possums are the only marsupials that hibernate during the winter. Hayley Bates

Up to four young are born. The young grow quickly and are weaned 9-10 weeks after conception. They leave the nest a month later. Most pygmy-possums live for only 1-3 years, however males can live to five years, and females to 12.

Status

The Mountain Pygmy-possum is remarkable in that it was first described from a Pleistocene fossil by Robert Broom in 1896. At the time it was thought to be extinct.

In 1966 a living specimen was discovered in a Ski Club Lodge on Mount Hotham in Victoria. With evidence of only one living animal in existence, the Guinness Book of Records of 1967 recorded the Mountain Pygmy-possum as the rarest animal on Earth.

Surveys later found a number of colonies across the New South Wales and Victorian Alps ranging in elevation from 1200m-2228m above sea level.

Today there are only three known populations: Mount Higginbotham and Mount Buller in Victoria, and Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales. The total population size is estimated to be less than 2600 adults, restricted to a total range less than 10 square kilometres. It is the only mammal that is entirely restricted to the alpine and subalpine regions of south-eastern Australia.

Threats

Only small patches of suitable pygmy-possum habitat remain. Degradation, fragmentation and loss of these remaining refuges are among the immediate threat to the continuing viability of the species. Up to a third of the best breeding habitat has been lost at Mount Buller alone, due to ski resort developments.

How this remaining habitat is connected is essential. Males need to be able to migrate safely to females during the breeding season. Connectivity also maintains the large-scale structure of the population and genetic diversity. However, road and ski slopes have fragmented the landscape.

Hayley Bates

Climate change poses the greatest ongoing threat to the Mountain Pygmy-possum.

Increases in temperature will cause significant changes in alpine areas. Specifically higher temperatures will reduce snow depth and the time snow remains on the ground. These processes have a cascade of ecological consequences

Bogong moths are a vital food source for Mountain Pygmy-possums when they awake from hibernation. These moths migrate to the mountains every summer to escape lowland heat. If snow melts early, possums awake from hibernation before the moths arrive in the mountains. The possums then have to compete with other small mammals - such as antechinus and rodents - living in the same habitat. They are forced to leave the boulderfields for other sources of food, exposing them to cats and foxes.

Warming also gives invasive predators a chance to move into areas previously inaccessible. Once the extreme cold kept them out.

Strategy

A national recovery plan was drafted in 2010 to ensure Mountain Pygmy-possums persist across their range and maintain their potential to evolve in the wild.

Healesville Sanctuary has successfully launched a captive breeding program for the Mountain Pygmy-possum in Victoria. This facility maximises genetic diversity within the populations by carefully selecting mating pairs.

Pygmy-possums occasionally climb around in the boulderfields instead of researchers’ hands. A Meyers

A second captive breeding facility is to be established in Lithgow for the New South Wales population as part of the Burramys Project. The captive population is an insurance policy against natural disaster.

The project aims to gain a greater understanding of how Mountain Pygmy-possums will adapt to climate change by looking to the fossil record. The pygymy-possum family has been found in fossils dating to 24 million years ago.

Conclusion

Although the Mountain Pygmy-possum is highly vulnerable to extinction, it can be saved.

After ten years of severe drought and a drastic decline in possum numbers, rain finally arrived in 2010. Over the last three years we have seen a rise in Mountain Pygmy-possums across New South Wales and Victoria. This growth is attributed to a number of factors including more food and water, genetic diversity through translocations, and pest management.

Here, have another possum. Hayley Bates

Recently a critically important discovery was made of a new population of Mountain Pygmy-possums in Kosciuszko National Park. These possums live below the tree line, in an area that receives little snow fall. They may play a key role in understanding how this species will adapt to future challenges.

The ConversationThe Conversation is running a series on Australian endangered species. See it here.

Hayley Bates, PhD Candidate, UNSW and Haijing Shi, Research Associate, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian endangered species: Woylie

The woylie is a small macropod, being only some 30 to 35 cm in body length, with a tail around 37 cm long, and weighing between 1.1 and 1.6 kg.[4] The fur of this bettong is yellowish-brown in color with a patch of paler fur on its belly, while the end of its furry tail is dark colored. It has little or no hair on the muzzle and tail. This species has a more slender build and larger ears than its relative the burrowing bettong.

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Woylie have decline by up to 95% since 2001. Why is a mystery. Flickr/Arthur Chapman
Mathew Crowther, University of Sydney

The introduced red fox (Vulpes vulpes) has had a devastating impact of Australia’s native mammal fauna, particularly on those in the “Critical Weight Range”, between 35 and 5500 grams. Combined with landscape modification due to agricultural practices, changed fire regimes and other introduced species, many of these species have become extinct across much of mainland Australia.

An example of one of these species is the Woylie or Brush-tailed Bettong (Bettongia penicillata). With a former distribution covering large areas of arid and semi-arid Northern Territory, South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, its natural occurring populations became restricted in the 1970s to three small wheatbelt reserves in Western Australia – Dryandra Woodland, and Tutanning and Perup Nature Reserves.

Woylies are members of the Family Potoridae, all small kangaroo-like marsupials under 3kg, formally known as “rat-kangaroos”. Woylies reach a maximum of 1850g, and are grey animals, with a dark brushy tail. They build basic nests on the ground in or near vegetation thickets, and their diet consists largely of fungi, tubers, bulbs, and seeds. They play an important ecological role through seed dispersal, and increasing soil and nutrient turnover with their diggings.

Status

The woylie has shown some dramatic changes in conservation status. The IUCN listed the woylie as Endangered in 1982, due to its dramatic decline. A review of the conservation status of the woylie undertaken in 1998, lead to its status being downgraded on Western Australian, Australian and international threatened species lists, due to its apparent recovery in response to both fox baiting and reintroductions.

However in 2008, the woylie was again listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. This was due to a declining rate in numbers of 25-95% per annum since 2001, leading a 90% decline between 1999 and 2006. Estimations of total decline between 2001 and 2006 were around 70-80%, equating to 8,000-15,000 animals.

Threats

The main threats to the woylie were red foxes. One of the reasons they were able to survive in the three remaining reserve areas, was the presence of Gastrolobium plants, which contain monofluoroacetate, the compound present as sodium monofluoroacetate in “1080” toxic baits. These plants both protect the woylies with cover, as well as possibly causing reduction in predators due to secondary poison when the predators eat them.

The successful recovery during the 1980s and 1990s was largely due to intense fox baiting campaigns. Other causes of historical decline were loss of habitat from land clearing, grazing and changed fire regimes. Disease has also been suspected as an agent of decline.

The causes for declines since 2001 have been a mystery, and clearly need more research. Predation by both foxes and cats may be playing a part, as is disease.

Strategy

The campaign of both intense fox bating and reintroduction into baited areas, and areas surrounded by predator proof fences was successful in the initial recovery of the woylie. From the initial three populations found in the 1970s, woylies were established in an additional 22 locations across Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales.

As the recent causes of decline are unknown, it is difficult to plan actions for the woylie recovery. As with all declining species, additional research is essential to pinpoint causes of decline. As well as controlling foxes and cats, surveillance monitoring for diseases needs to continue.

Conclusion

The woylie is an example where continual research is needed on wildlife populations, even when we think they are in the clear. Without dedicated researchers, the extent of the recent decline of the woylie would have gone unnoticed. Without continual research-lead conservation of the woylie, the reasons for the decline will remain a mystery.

The ConversationThe Conversation is running a series on Australian endangered species. See it here.

Mathew Crowther, Senior Lecturer in Wildlife Management, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia’s record-breaking winter warmth linked to climate change

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This winter had some extreme low and high temperatures. Daniel Lee/Flickr, CC BY-NC
Andrew King, University of Melbourne

On the first day of spring, it’s time to take stock of the winter that was. It may have felt cold, but Australia’s winter had the highest average daytime temperatures on record. It was also the driest in 15 years.

Back at the start of winter the Bureau of Meteorology forecast a warm, dry season. That proved accurate, as winter has turned out both warmer and drier than average.


Read more: Australia’s dry June is a sign of what’s to come


While we haven’t seen anything close to the weather extremes experienced in other parts of the world, including devastating rainfalls in Niger, the southern US and the Indian subcontinent all in the past week, we have seen a few interesting weather extremes over the past few months across Australia.

Much of the country had drier conditions than average, especially in the southeast and the west. Bureau of Meteorology

Drier weather than normal has led to warmer days and cooler nights, resulting in some extreme temperatures. These include night-time lows falling below -10℃ in the Victorian Alps and -8℃ in Canberra (the coldest nights for those locations since 1974 and 1971, respectively), alongside daytime highs of above 32℃ in Coffs Harbour and 30℃ on the Sunshine Coast.

During the early part of the winter the southern part of the country remained dry as record high pressure over the continent kept cold fronts at bay. Since then we’ve seen more wet weather for our southern capitals and some impressive snow totals for the ski fields, even if the snow was late to arrive.

This warm, dry winter is laying the groundwork for dangerous fire conditions in spring and summer. We have already had early-season fires on the east coast and there are likely to be more to come.

Climate change and record warmth

Australia’s average daytime maximum temperatures were the highest on record for this winter, beating the previous record set in 2009 by 0.3℃. This means Australia has set new seasonal highs for maximum temperatures a remarkable ten times so far this century (across summer, autumn, winter and spring). The increased frequency of heat records in Australia has already been linked to climate change.

Winter 2017 stands out as having the warmest average daytime temperatures by a large margin. Bureau of Meteorology

The record winter warmth is part of a long-term upward trend in Australian winter temperatures. This prompts the question: how much has human-caused climate change altered the likelihood of extremely warm winters in Australia?

I used a standard event attribution methodology to estimate the role of climate change in this event.

I took the same simulations that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) uses in its assessments of the changing climate, and I put them into two sets: one that represents the climate of today (including the effects of greenhouse gas emissions) and one with simulations representing an alternative world that excludes our influences on the climate.

I used 14 climate models in total, giving me hundreds of years in each of my two groups to study Australian winter temperatures. I then compared the likelihood of record warm winter temperatures like 2017 in those different groups. You can find more details of my method here.

I found a stark difference in the chance of record warm winters across Australia between these two sets of model simulations. By my calculations there has been at least a 60-fold increase in the likelihood of a record warm winter that can be attributed to human-caused climate change. The human influence on the climate has increased Australia’s temperatures during the warmest winters by close to 1℃.

More winter warmth to come

Looking ahead, it’s likely we’re going to see more record warm winters, like we’ve seen this year, as the climate continues to warm.

The likelihood of winter warmth like this year is rising. Best estimate chances are shown with the vertical black lines showing the 90% confidence interval. Author provided

Under the Paris Agreement, the world’s nations are aiming to limit global warming to below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels, with another more ambitious goal of 1.5℃ as well. These targets are designed to prevent the worst potential impacts of climate change. We are currently at around 1℃ of global warming.

Even if global warming is limited to either of these levels, we would see more winter warmth like 2017. In fact, under the 2℃ target, we would likely see these winters occurring in more than 50% of years. The record-setting heat of today would be roughly the average climate of a 2℃ warmed world.

While many people will have enjoyed the unusual winter warmth, it poses risks for the future. Many farmers are struggling with the lack of reliable rainfall, and bad bushfire conditions are forecast for the coming months. More winters like this in the future will not be welcomed by those who have to deal with the consequences.



Climate data provided by the Bureau of Meteorology. For more details about winter 2017, see the Bureau’s Climate Summaries.

The ConversationYou can find more details on the specific methods applied for this analysis here.

Andrew King, Climate Extremes Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Put out water for the wildlife in your garden on hot days

Susan Lawler, La Trobe University
Wildlife need water on hot days. Melanie Thomas, from pixabay.com

Last night I was watering the garden with a hose. It is easy to see how stressed the plants are on a 38 degree day, but then I remembered that the animals in my garden need water too. So I filled some shallow bowls and placed them in quiet shady spots. During a hot Australian summer day, such an act can save a life. A small life, perhaps, but every little bit counts.

I have a small suburban garden but it still supports a range of insects, birds, frogs and reptiles. Whenever we move a pile of wood we disturb some lovely spotted geckos. Even in the city most Australians will have possums moving through the trees and skinks sheltering under the back steps. Suburbs on the edge of town have wombats, wallabies and kangaroos. Birds and insects live everywhere. On hot days all creatures will seek water and shade.

So why not add a routine to your normal gardening chores and put out some water for wildlife? Here are a few hints to ensure that the animals benefit.

Tips for watering wildlife

Use only shallow bowls so small animals do not drown. Alternatively (or additionally) add a few rocks or sticks so they can easily crawl out. Do not use metal bowls as these will become hot and may burn their feet or paws. Place the water in a shady spot, out of the way of human activity and protected from domestic pets.

Birds and tree dwelling animals will appreciate water hung at various levels. You can nail a plastic tub to a fence, or hang a modified water bottle in a tree.
If you are able to set up a hose to mist a shady corner in the garden, you will create a small haven for wildlife. I did this last night with the excuse that the lemon tree needed a good drink anyway.

Don’t worry if you don’t see the animals using your water. It is likely that they prefer privacy and will use it when you are not looking.

On the other hand, if you do see animals showing signs of heat stress, you may have to take further steps.

Caring for heat stressed wildlife

Animals that are suffering from heat stress will behave strangely. Nocturnal animals that are out during the day, tree dwelling animals sitting on the ground, or animals that are lethargic or staggering are all showing signs of stress.

The first concern about stressed wildlife is your own safety. Do not approach snakes, flying foxes, large kangaroos, eagles, hawks or goannas. Your best bet is to contact a trained wildlife carer for advice.

It is a good idea to have the phone numbers of your local wildlife carers handy, or download the wildlife rescue app.

If it is safe to do so, you can assist a heat stressed animal by picking it up in a towel, placing it in a well ventilated box in a cool spot and provide water. Do not feed the animal or handle it more than necessary. The animal may recover enough to release again in the evening, but if not you will need to take them to a wildlife carer or a vet.

Wildlife and bushfires

Unfortunately many Australians now live under the threat of bushfires and face evacuations throughout the summer months. Obviously, fires are bad for both domestic and wild animals. The best thing you can do during an evacuation is to take your dogs and cats with you and leave out plenty of water for wildlife.

If you do find injured wildlife, take them to the vet if it is safe to do so. Never go into a fire affected area searching for injured animals. This is a job best left to trained staff who are coordinated by the appropriate agencies and assisted by volunteers who have had the right training.

The ConversationOn the other hand, all of us can help by putting out water for wildlife. Every little bit helps.

Susan Lawler, Senior Lecturer, Department of Ecology, Environment and Evolution, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bee battles: why our native pollinators are losing the war

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Bumble bee. Photo credit: dnydick, CC BY-NC
Kelsey K Graham, Tufts University

As global commerce grows, the movement of goods is occurring at ever-faster rates. And with increased global trade comes the spread of non-native species. This includes invasive insects that are making life difficult for domestic bees.

Non-native species get introduced both intentionally and accidentally. However they migrate, though, their spread can lead to devastating results. Non-native species can dramatically reshape their invaded habitats and disrupt the interactions between native species.

After direct habitat loss, invasive species are the second greatest threat to biodiversity. Biodiversity is crucial to a healthy ecosystem, providing us services such as food, the natural resources that sustain our current lifestyle, and the building blocks of medicines.

Invasive species come in all forms – plants, animals and microbes – but all share common traits: they are non-native, they are increasing in prevalence, and they negatively affect native species.

Native bees in North America are declining drastically. Habitat loss is the number one reason for bee decline, with pesticide use, invasive species, and climate change also playing a major role. With the growth of cities and farms, habitat suitable for our native bees shrinks. And with competition and habitat degradation from invasive species, suitable habitat becomes even less.

We depend on native bees, like our humble bumble bees (Bombus spp.), to pollinate native flowers and crops. Bumble bees pollinate tomatoes, peppers, blueberries and many more of our favorite food items. Honey bees, which are widely used in agriculture and are suffering from colony collapse disorder, are a non-native species, and can’t replace the pollination services provided by native bees such as bumble bees.

But one invasive species in particular is threatening the livelihood of bumble bees.

New bee on the block

The European wool-carder bee was first discovered in North America in 1963 near Ithaca, New York, and since then, its impact has been felt from coast to coast. Wool-carder bees get their name from the nest building behavior of the female bees. Females collect plant hairs, called trichomes, by cutting them with their mandibles. The up-and-down motion they use during trichome collection to cut the hair-like fibers and ball them up is reminiscent of carding wool.

My research has shown that carding behavior induces chemical changes in the plant similar to what occurs when insects eat plants. These chemical changes signal other wool-carder bees, attracting them to the plant, which causes further damage.

In addition to damaging plants, female wool-carder bees compete with our native bees for flowers. Bees depend on nectar and pollen from flowers for food, and increased competition from invasive species raises concerns over the future of our native bees.

But the behavior of male wool-carder bees appears even more sinister. Males aggressively defend flower patches in order to attract mates. Males use evolved weapons on the base of their abdomen to attack any interloper who isn’t a potential mate, often causing severe injury or even death to the attacked bee. By decreasing competition for flowers, the male wool-carder bee hopes to entice more female wool-carder bees to visit his patch, thus increasing his chances of mating.

Male wool-carder bee. Photo credit: Ilona L

Of all our native bees, bumble bees (Bombus spp.) receive the brunt of attacks from male wool-carder bees. Therefore, my research focuses on the impact of these attacks on bumble bee well-being. My preliminary research shows that bumble bees avoid foraging for nectar and pollen in areas with wool-carder bees - likely to avoid attack. Because they stay away from areas defended by wool-carder bees, the number of flowers available to bumble bees decreases.

As bumble bees are already facing a shortage of flowers due to habitat loss, this additional restriction on flower availability is causing serious concern about the sustainability of local bumble bee populations. Because the population of wool-carder bees is growing, my current research is trying to determine the extent of the negative impact they are having on our precious native pollinators.

Native pollinators, such as bumble bees, cannot easily be replaced by other species. This is because our native bees perform a special form of pollination, buzz pollination, where they use a unique vibration pattern to shake loose pollen from flowers. Many of our native crops, such as tomatoes and blueberries, need buzz pollination for efficient pollen transfer. So for the health and well-being of our native plants, we must care for our native bees.

So what can we do?

There are a number of pollinator-friendly actions each of us can take.

  1. Plant native wildflowers – Ornamental non-native plants are often easy choices for the garden, but they promote the spread of invasive species such as the wool-carder bee, and often go unvisited by our native bees. So while you may think you are helping the bees by planting flowers, make sure that you are planting flowers that our native bees will actually visit. Native wildflowers help mitigate the effects of urbanization on our native bees by increasing the availability of food in an otherwise challenging urban environment.

  2. Opt for a more natural yard – Treating our yards with herbicides and cutting the grass very short can lead to a perfectly manicured lawn, but at what cost? Lawns with no flowers are food deserts to our bees. Allowing wildflowers such as clover to blossom in your yard provides much-needed resources for our native bees. If you absolutely can’t give up the manicured look of your lawn, opt for a wildflower garden at the perimeter of the yard instead. The bees will thank you!

  3. Buy organic – Pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, have devastating effects on bees, and are linked to the decline of both bumble bees and other bee species worldwide. Lessen your pesticide footprint by buying organic produce when you can.


    The ConversationTo read more about bees and pollinators, see:

Kelsey K Graham, PhD Candidate in Behavioral Ecology, Tufts University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.