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To save Australia’s mammals we need a change of heart

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What’s the best way to give Australia’s mammals a helping hand? Northern Australia Hub, National Environmental Research Program
John Woinarski, Charles Darwin University and Peter Harrison, Southern Cross University

Twenty-nine Australian land mammals have become extinct over the last 200 years, and 56 are currently facing extinction. These losses and potential losses represent over a third of the 315 species present at the time of European settlement.

We recently published the first review of all Australian mammals, finding that Australia has the worst rate of mammal extinctions in the world, and the situation isn’t improving thanks to feral predators such as cats.

In response, Environment Minister Greg Hunt has proposed investing in research for a cat-killing disease as a form of biological control. But while biological control will be part of the solution, it is not the silver bullet. The real solution will have to involve a change of heart.

Not a thing of the past

Most Australians know of and regret the extinction of the thylacine — but few recognise that this one extinction is symptomatic of a much more pervasive loss. Twenty-eight other mammals have become extinct since 1788, and we suspect that few would know their names, let alone of their loss.

It’s still happening. In 2009 the Christmas Island Pipistrelle (a tiny bat) became extinct, and the Bramble Cay Melomys may have suffered a similar fate recently, thanks to neglect.

These species are or were not obscure marginalia or predestined for oblivion. Instead many were common and played important and irreplaceable roles in our country’s ecology. These species were part of the fabric of this land. The Australian mammal fauna is the most distinctive in the world: 86% of our 315 land mammal species are found nowhere else.

Since the 1840s we’ve lost mammals at the rate of one species per decade. On current trends, there will be many more extinctions of Australian mammals in the next one or two generations: we found 56 land mammal species (more than 20% of our land mammals) are now threatened with extinction.

Out to sea the situation is a little less bleak, but more opaque. Of 58 species reported from Australian waters, six are threatened but 35 are considered Data Deficient – they may or may not be in trouble, but we don’t have enough information to be sure.

Feral cats the greatest threat

It may sound all doom and gloom — and in many respects it is — but it’s important to note that conservation can work. Both Gilbert’s potoroo and the Bridled nailtail wallaby have been brought back from the brink through dedicated effort.

So how do we go about saving the rest of Australia’s threatened mammals?

Some consider this an economic question — with X amount of dollars, we can save X number of species, but which ones? This is the argument of medical triage, a sharp prioritisation that directs funds only at the most savable and valuable species.

But this is a defeatist mentality. To advocate for species’ extinctions by choice or through disinclination is unconscionable. Triage was born on the battlefields of Napoleonic Europe, where life and death choices had to be made in minutes. It is an inappropriate analogy for biodiversity conservation.

A better analogy is with the education system. Our society accepts the obligation that all children should be schooled, and recognises the benefit to society from that premise. So too with conservation: we should recognise the obligation to attempt to safeguard all species. In a nation as affluent as ours, this can and should be a realistic objective.

But to do so we have to target our resources at the right problems.

Cats are the greatest threat to Australia’s mammals. Northern Australia Hub, National Environmental Research Program

Cats are the greatest threat to Australia’s mammals. Like many other threats, they are now a pervasive and deeply-entrenched problem, and we recognise that it will not be solved simply or quickly.

There are some measure we can implement immediately: translocating threatened species, establishing a network of cat-proof enclosures, and better management of dingoes and wild dogs (which can help control cat populations).

But we also need to look at long-term solutions. This has formidable challenges. Current trials in cat-baiting are promising, but we don’t yet know if they will work on a large scale. Biological control (such as a disease) may take decades to develop, and has to overcome concerns from cat owners, and risks to other Australian wildlife and cat species overseas.

Even so, controlling cats is likely to do more for the conservation of Australia’s biodiversity than any other single action.

Learning to care for our country

But we have concluded that we will not solve the mammal extinction crisis simply by repeating the same actions over and over. The problem is far more fundamental.

Conservation is not just an environmental problem; it also charts a moral landscape. How does our society fit into this land? What do we consider is important? Is it reasonable that we gift our descendants only a faint shadow of our country’s extraordinary nature?

We have worked extensively in remote Australia. We have shown old Aboriginal men and women stuffed museum specimens of now-vanished mammals, and been struck to our core by their responses: singing the song of that animal, stroking it, telling its story, crying at its loss. Here is an affinity to nature, a deep connection to our land, an ache of responsibility, that we settler Australians have not yet felt or learned. To become part of this country, to care for it properly, we need to grow some of that sense of belonging and affinity. Otherwise, extinctions will continue to be viewed as inconsequential.

Our review of the fate of Australian mammals reflects uncomfortably on our society. Without understanding of our country, without linkages to, and affinity to, its nature, and without a corresponding commitment to its well-being, our society will fit poorly in this land and these seas, and we will continue to erode the most remarkable fauna in the world.

We must accept that biodiversity conservation is not only an obligation of government, but a shared societal responsibility.

The ConversationThis article was co-written by Dr Andrew Burbidge, who is a co-author of the action plan. He is a Research Fellow with the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife.

John Woinarski, Professor (conservation biology), Charles Darwin University and Peter Harrison, Director, Marine Ecology Research Centre, Southern Cross University

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

Albany History - Wave

The Wave was a brig that was wrecked in 1848 at Cheynes Beach near Cape Riche, Western Australia.

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Built in 1838 in Victoria, Bermuda the vessel was constructed from wood and copper sheathed. It had a square stern, single deck, no galleries and a billet head. The vessel was acquired by R. Brown in 1847 and was registered in London. It was then acquired in 1848 by William Younghusband and Company of Adelaide and registered there.

The vessel was in command of James C. Coke and was transporting cargo from Adelaide to Shanghai via Albany and Singapore.[1] The brig left Adelaide 5 June 1848 loaded mostly with flour and was en route to Albany to load a shipment of sandalwood.

The vessel was anchored at Cheyne Bay near Cape Riche when it was blown ashore by a heavy gale. The Champion and Arpenteur were dispatched from King George Sound[4] to assist. The Champion managed to pull the Wave offshore but Wave was leaking badly and foundered then sunk.

Champion then salvaged some of the cargo and then transported the crew, minus the Captain, back to Albany. Captain Coke sailed to Adelaide aboard the HMS Acheron, commanded by Captain John Lort Stokes.

The owners of the Arpenteur acquired the wreck of the Wave and that cargo not already salvaged for £330. The Arpenteur sailed for Fremantle with 27 tons of flour, 1,000 bushels of wheat, the rigging and sails that the crew had salvaged from the Wave

10 tips for eating local

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Farmers markets are one way to find local produce. Farmers market image from www.shutterstock.com
Karen Charlton, University of Wollongong and Amy Carrad, University of Wollongong

Being a “locavore” means choosing food that is grown locally, and is one way that you can help ensure there is more food to go around.

To feed the predicted nine billion people in the world in 2050, the world will need to produce 70-100% more food. This unprecedented increase in food production will require substantial changes in soil management, land cultivation, and crop production.

This cannot be achieved without technological advances that increase crop yield and reduce the need to use nitrogen-based fertilisers. The question is how this can be achieved sustainably, while also tackling climate change.

This is where “eating local” comes in.

What is eating local?

The primary reason why eating local is good for the planet is the reduction in energy resources required for transport and storage. Generally, the further a food has travelled from “paddock to plate”, the greater its impact on the environment. This is because of fuel used in transport and increased greenhouse gas emissions used for refrigerated storage.

The mode of transport matters too. Transporting food by air generates 177 times more greenhouse gases than shipping it.

The global food system lets us eat food from all over the world, all year round. But food miles impact adversely on the nutritional quality of fresh foods, and on the environment.

Yet while eating foods grown close to where we live makes planetary sense, farmers markets and foods grown more sustainably (organically) often carry a price premium, and seem to be targeted to a trendy and wealthy demographic.

The lack of a definition of “eating locally” also raises questions of how to incorporate organic and fair trade produce within the larger sustainability movement, and how to support developing nations.

Global supply chains place great demands on ecosystems and natural resources, and large distances between where food is produced and consumed is often seen as evidence of an unsustainable food system. However, this is not always as straightforward as it appears.

10 tips for eating local

1: Become familiar with foods that are grown or produced locally and what time of the year they are available. Seasonal food guides are available from some fruit markets and online such as one developed for south-east Queensland.

2: Look for local farmers markets, community gardens, food co-operatives and community supported agriculture schemes. Green Connect is one example of a community-supported agriculture scheme operating in the Illawarra region of New South Wales. In some states such as Tasmania, a thriving food tourism culture may encourage consumers to eat locally but this concept has not been replicated in other parts of the country.

3: Grow your own fruit and vegetables and keep chickens in your own backyard, or get involved in your local community garden, and trade produce with neighbours.

4: Read the labels of packaged foods. The new “Made in Australia” labelling on foods makes it easier to determine where the food (and its individual components) has been grown, processed and packaged.

Australia’s origin labelling can help choose food produced closer to home. Australia government

5: Choose less processed foods. Generally, the more processed a food is, the more energy and water it requires in the production process. Replace junk food with fresh fruit, nuts and vegetables.

6: Take the Eco Friendly Food Challenge and get some friends to join you.

7: Cook meals using fresh ingredients rather than purchasing ready-made meals.

8: Ask your food retailers and manufacturers about the origin of the food you are buying. Locate fruit and vegetable retailers, who sell food produced locally.

9: Limit your intake of alcohol and purchase locally-grown alcohol with the lowest food miles possible. If you enjoy a particular beer or wine, contact the manufacturer to learn about their environmental policies and to advocate for more environmentally friendly production methods.

10: The Fair Food Forager app allows you to search for food outlets that adhere to fair and sustainable practices.

The ConversationCreating consumer demand for more locally and sustainably produced food is being led not only by food champion Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, but also by our very own Australian Youth Food Movement, whose organisers are passionate about improving the food supply for future generations.

Karen Charlton, Associate Professor, School of Medicine, University of Wollongong and Amy Carrad, PhD Candidate - Public Health, University of Wollongong

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

How changing your diet could save animals from extinction

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Nearly one-third of tropical animal species face extinction if humans do not curb our growing appetites for beef, pork and other land-intensive meats. The Panamanian golden frog bred by the Vancouver Aquarium in this 2014 file photo may be extinct in its natural habitat. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Laura Kehoe, University of Victoria

Transforming large swaths of the tropics into farmland could render almost one-third of wildlife there extinct, new research suggests.

From the Amazon rain forests to the Zambezi floodplains, intensive monoculture farming could have a severe adverse impact on wildlife around the world.

Wildlife would disappear most dramatically in the remaining forests and grasslands of Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. The greatest species loss would occur in the Peruvian Amazon basin where as many as 317 species could vanish as a result of agricultural development.

As a doctoral researcher at Humboldt University Berlin, I studied human food consumption, land use and how they affect wildlife. Our research was published July 17 in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

While human population has doubled since 1970, the number of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians have dropped by more than half. At its root, this widespread environmental destruction is a result of our growth as a species and increasing food consumption to sustain ourselves.

Although climate change casts a shadow over future conservation efforts, farming is the No. 1 threat to wildlife. We have already altered some 75 per cent of the ice-free land on this planet. If we continue along our current course, we will need to double our crop production to feed a growing world population that demands more resource-intensive foods such as meat and dairy.

Africa at risk

Our research shows that Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly at risk of harmful agricultural development. This region is at the crossroads of economic, demographic and agricultural growth, and minimizing potential effects of agricultural change there is an urgent challenge.

The potential biodiversity loss due to agricultural expansion and intensification worldwide could be as high as 317 species in some locales (left), reaching 31 per cent of known vertebrate animals (right). (Laura Kehoe), Author provided

This becomes more worrying when considering the percentage of land that is currently at risk (i.e. natural but arable) and not protected against future development. Four-fifths of the regions we identify at risk of farmland expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa are unprotected. This is less than half of the 43 per cent protected in Latin America.

Some may mistakenly believe that protecting land from farming is about preserving wildlife habitat while local people go hungry. But it’s not a binary choice. Instead, the goal is to ensure an ample supply of nutritious food while at the same time conserving the most biodiverse and unique places on Earth. This is possible if we try. Knowing in advance what areas are most at risk allows us to better plan for a more sustainable future.

Aside from protecting land, food can be grown at little to no cost to biodiversity. For example, small-holder agro-ecological farming, which uses diverse cropping techniques along with fewer chemical fertilizers and pesticides, can produce large quantities of nutritious food at little to no cost to wildlife.

We need to increase awareness of agro-ecological farming methods and secure local people’s land-holder rights — a crucial step to preventing large foreign corporations from buying up land for monoculture farming.

Communities adopting agro-ecological techniques is a win-win solution that goes a long way towards sustainably feeding the world without pushing wildlife towards extinction.

What can policy makers do?

Current large-scale conservation schemes are based on factors that include past habitat loss and the threatened status of species, but none include the potential for future land-use change. We need to do a better job of predicting future pressures on wildlife habitat, especially because timely conservation action is cheaper and more effective than trying to fix the damage caused by farming. Our research takes a step in this direction.

We also show which countries could do with more support for conservation initiatives to protect land and find ways to sustainably grow food. Suriname, Guyana and the Republic of the Congo are just a few examples, as well as a number of countries in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa that are at the centre of high agricultural growth, low conservation investment and very high numbers of species that could be lost due to agricultural development.

Since most agricultural demand comes from richer nations, those countries should provide education and support for sustainable farming methods and locally led conservation efforts.

Map shows countries at risk of high species loss from agricultural development (yellow, bear icon), rapid agricultural growth 2009 to 2013 (orange, tractor symbol), and differing levels of conservation spending. Red represents low spending, high growth, and high species loss. Purple shows high spending, high growth, and low species loss. Green is high spending, low growth, and high species loss. Low values for all three factors are in grey. White represents no data. Dollar figures per square kilometre. Laura Kehoe, Author provided

What can you do?

All of this raises the question: How can we eat well without harming wildlife? One simple step we can all take right now that would have a far greater impact than any other (aside from having fewer children): Cut out the grain-fed beef.

The inefficiency of feeding livestock grain to turn them into meals for humans makes a diet heavy in animals particularly harsh on the Earth’s resources. For example, in the United States, it takes 25 kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of beef. Pigs have a grain-to-meat-ratio of 9:1, and chickens are 3:1.

Imagine throwing away 25 plates of perfectly good food to get one plate of beef — the idea is absurd and would likely be news if done en masse. But that is precisely what we are all unknowingly doing by eating resource-intensive meat. Articles on food waste seem half-baked when keeping in mind the bizarre grain-to-meat ratio of many of our most popular meats.

There are ways in which farmers can raise livestock with little to no environmental damage, particularly when land is not overgrazed and trees remain on the landscape. Indeed, in some remote areas grazing cattle are a crucial source of food and nourishment. Unfortunately, the industrialized feedlot model that relies heavily on grain makes up the overwhelming majority of the meat in your supermarket. That is the kind of farming that our research investigates.

Livestock and deforestation

To make matters worse, the grain we feed animals is the leading driver of deforestation in the tropics. And it’s a hungry beast: our cows, pigs, and poultry devour over one-third of all crops we grow. Indeed, the grain we feed to animals in the U.S. alone could feed an additional 800 million people if it were eaten by us directly — more than the number of people currently living in hunger.

Livestock quietly causes 10 times more deforestation than the palm oil industry but seems to get about 10 times less media attention. While it’s certainly true that avoiding unsustainable palm oil is a good idea, avoiding eating animals that were raised on grain is an even more effective conservation tactic.

Feeding the world without damaging nature is one of the greatest challenges humanity faces. But with a little foresight, better land governance and some simple meal changes, many of the solutions are at arm’s length.

The ConversationFor wildlife’s sake, go forth and enjoy your veggie burgers.

Laura Kehoe, Researcher in Conservation Decision Science and Land Use, University of Victoria

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

In defence of bats: beautifully designed mammals that should be left in peace

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USFWS Pacific/flickr, CC BY
Daniel Horton, University of Surrey

As a wildlife veterinarian, I often get asked about bats. I like bats, and I am always eager to talk about how interesting they are. Unfortunately the question is often not about biology but instead “what should I do about the ones in my roof?”.

With some unique talents and remarkable sex lives, bats are actually one of the most interesting, diverse and misunderstood groups of animals. Contrary to popular belief, they are beautiful creatures. Not necessarily in the cuddly, human-like sense – although some fruit bats with doey brown eyes and button noses could be considered so – but they are beautifully designed.

A flying fox shows off its 50 million-year-old wing design. Duncan PJ, CC BY-SA

Soon afterwards, fossils record another game-changing adaptation in the evolution of most bats, and that is the ability to accurately locate prey using sound (what we call echolocation). These two adaptations early in their history gave bats an evolutionary edge compared to some other mammals, and allowed them to diversify into almost all habitats, on every continent except Antarctica.

Some bats are tiny. Gillles San Martin, CC BY-SA

There are now more than 1,300 different species, divided among 26 different families (compared to fewer than 500 primate species). Indonesia alone has 219 different bat species.

It is not just a quantity though – the variety is astonishing. The thumb-sized bumblebee bat of Thailand is the smallest species, weighing just two grammes. And like other insectivorous bats, it can eat its own body weight in insects every night. At the other end of the scale, some large flying foxes have wingspans of well over a metre and, having lost the ability to echolocate, eat fruit and nectar.

The eerily pale ‘ghost bat’ roosts in the back of caves and will even eat other smaller bats. quollism, CC BY

Everyone knows that some bats feed on blood, but despite the “vampire” myth, only three species actually feed on blood. And these haematophagous bats are only found in parts of South America. They also definitely don’t get tangled in your hair. Bats are far too good at flying.

If thus far I haven’t persuaded you to like bats, you must admit that they are useful. Bats defecate while regularly flying very long distances (up to 350km in one night), making them extremely effective at dispersing seeds. Add to that the fact that some fruit bats live in colonies up to 1m strong, and you can start to imagine their impact. So much so, they have been proven key in reforestation.

Another unappreciated and major role is as pest controllers. The sheer volume of insects that some bats species can eat makes them very effective at suppressing pest insects. Bats reduce the nuisance and disease threat of mosquitoes, and it has been estimated they save the US economy at least $3.7 billion every year through increased crop productivity and reduction of pesticide usage.

A Mauritian Tomb Bat with her pup. Frank.Vassen/flickr, CC BY

Despite their ancient design, they show some remarkable talents. One of these is shared only by several select animals. Bats are vocal learners – able to learn and then imitate sounds even in adulthood. This is likely important for the development of the complex social organisation seen in many bat species. Most surprising of all is the recent revelation that they are also members of an even more exclusive and less salubrious club: animals known to partake in fellatio during copulation.

Bats have had some bad press recently due to their association with infectious diseases, from rabies to Ebola. And they appear able to tolerate some viruses fatal to other species. If anything, that illustrates again why they should be respected, especially as various bat species are also endangered and therefore protected by law in many regions.

The ConversationSo my response to those interested in what to do about the bats in their roof? Leave them alone.

Daniel Horton, Lecturer in Veterinary Virology, University of Surrey

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

Should we move species threatened by climate change?

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New Zealand’s ancient tuatara might need a helping hand to cope with climate change. Flickr/Sheep"R"Us
Tracy Rout, University of Melbourne; Doug Armstrong, Massey University; Eve McDonald-Madden, CSIRO; Hugh Possingham, The University of Queensland; Nicola Mitchell, University of Western Australia, and Tara Martin, CSIRO

Climate change is one of the greatest threats the world’s animals and plants are facing. In fact the world is facing an extinction crisis, which should concern all of us. The major problem with climate change is not so much that climate is changing, but that it is changing faster than species can move or adapt.

One of the solutions is to move species to places with a more suitable climate. But the idea of introducing species to areas where they have never occurred before is controversial, because species introduced to somewhere they’ve never lived could have devastating consequences for the species already there. Just think of foxes, lantana, cane toads and other invasive species in Australia.

So how do we weigh up the costs and benefits? In a new study published today in journal PLOS ONE, we developed a way of finding the answer.

Australia’s species at risk

Moving species threatened by climate change isn’t a new idea. In fact we’ve already moved some, while others are being considered.

One of them is the critically endangered Western Swamp Tortoise from Perth in Western Australia - Australia’s rarest reptile. It currently faces extinction thanks to declining seasonal rainfall, which is drying up the swamps the tortoise calls home. To stop the tortoise becoming extinct, scientists have considered potential new sites far to the south of its home range.

Another species facing climate extinction is the Mountain Pygmy-possum, a tiny mammal that currently resides on three snowy mountain tops in Victoria and New South Wales. As temperatures warm the possum is running out of room to move upwards. Snow cover, and the length of time snow stays on the ground, is decreasing rapidly.

This means the possums come out of winter hibernation earlier, and can’t find enough food. The mountains have also seen an influx of feral predators, which previously found the area inaccessible thanks to snow cover.

Weighing up the costs

It’s far from clear cut which species might benefit from this drastic action, and for which it would be a costly and risky mistake. How should wildlife managers approach the decision of whether to move animals into new areas, or leave them in places that may become uninhabitable for them?

In our study we outlined a framework that can quantify whether the benefit of moving a species outweighs the ecological cost.

The benefit of moving a species is based on the likelihood it will go extinct in its original habitat as the local climate becomes hostile, the likelihood that a breeding population can be established at a new site, and the value or importance of the species.

The ecological cost depends on the potential for the species to adversely affect the ecosystem at the new site. Species are considered candidates for re-location only if the benefit of doing so is greater than the ecological cost.

This decision involves both scientific predictions (what’s the likelihood the species will go extinct in its current range?) and subjective judgements (how do we value the conservation of this species compared to species already living at the introduction site?). Our framework separates these questions out.

The framework is intended to support the revised “IUCN guidelines for re-introductions and other conservation translocations”, which explicitly calls for structured decision-making frameworks for conservation introductions.

Testing on tuatara

We test drove our new framework using the hypothetical case of the New Zealand tuatara which is being considered for relocation from its home on a number of small offshore islands in the north of NZ to the South Island, outside of its current range. The tuatara is the country’s largest reptile and the only surviving representative of an ancient lineage.

The tuatara faces a peculiar threat from climate change. Like many reptiles, the sex of a tuatara is determined by incubation temperature, with higher temperatures giving rise to males and lower temperatures to females. The population from North Brother Island in New Zealand’s Cook Strait is already showing signs of too many males. This is expected to worsen as temperatures increase, putting the population at risk of extinction.

We considered an introduction from the North Brother Island population to a hypothetical mainland sanctuary on New Zealand’s South Island. We used a previously published population model to predict the effect of climate change on the North Brother Island population, and estimated that the current population of 550 tuatara has a 0.43 chance of persisting in 150 years time. If we remove animals to introduce them elsewhere, this slightly decreases the probability to 0.42.

We found that the chance of successfully establishing a new population was good, and that the chance that the new population will impact negatively on the ecosystem was low.

The ConversationTuatara show why it’s essential to have a rigorous framework like this to take the gut instinct and guesswork out of the decision, so we can make smarter choices for conserving species under climate change.

Tracy Rout, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, University of Melbourne; Doug Armstrong, Professor of Conservation Biology, Massey University; Eve McDonald-Madden, Postdoctoral Fellow, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences., CSIRO; Hugh Possingham, Director ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, The University of Queensland; Nicola Mitchell, Associate Professor in Conservation Physiology, University of Western Australia, and Tara Martin, Senior Research Scientist, Ecosystem Sciences, CSIRO

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

Australian endangered species: Mountain Pygmy-possum

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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.

Torndirrup National Park

Torndirrup National Park is a national park in the Great Southern region of Western Australia, 400 kilometres (249 mi) southeast of Perth and via Frenchman Bay Road is 10 km (6.2 mi) south of Albany.

Torndirrup National Park has many impressive rock formations on the coast. These include the Gap, Natural Bridge and the Blowholes all shaped from the local granite. The park is along the coast on the west side of King George Sound and consists of a range of cliffs, gullies, blowholes, beaches and promontories.

Torndirrup National Park  Skyprints

 

Natural Bridge

The area is composed of three major rock types, one of these being gneiss. The oldest of these was formed 1300-1600 million years ago. This rock type can be seen along the cliff walls of the Gap. The granites were formed later as the Australian Plate collided with the Antarctic Plate 1160 million years ago as molten rock rose to the surface. These granites are visible in the tors atop Stony Hill.

The park was gazetted in 1918, one of the first in Western Australia. It was later named in 1969 taking the name of the Indigenous Australian clan that lived in the area. The first ranger was appointed in 1973. The park is the most often visited park in Western Australia, with approximately 250,000 visitors per annum.

A large bushfire burnt through 700 hectares (1,730 acres) of bushland in the area in 2010 and caused the closure of Frenchman Bay Road isolating tourists and residents of the area.[5] In 2015 another fire burnt out 616 hectares (1,522 acres) of bushland between Stony Hill and the Blowholes including destroying important populations of the critically endangered Banksia verticillata]

Flora and fauna

By Cygnis insignis (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Cygnis insignis (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Banksia grandis at Torndirrup

A large array of floral species can be found within the park, including the woolly-bushpeppermint tree, swamp yate, various banksias and karri forest. Coastal plants such as native rosemary, banjine and thick leafed fanflower are found in the heath. The park is also home to the very rare Albany woolly-bush[7] and the critically endangered blue tinsel lily of which only a single population exists.[8]

Fauna such as kangaroosbush ratspygmy possums and short-nosed bandicoots are found within the park. Many reptile species are also to be found, including tiger snakesbardickChildren's python and dugites. In 1876 the rare dibbler was found in the park.[9] Birdlife includes honeyeaterswattlebirdsbutton quailwestern rosella and a variety of seabirds.[10] Whales and seals can be seen from the cliffs of the park in the correct season.

The rare and ancient Main's assassin spider, currently listed as threatened, was found to inhabit the park during a survey conducted in 2008

Facilities

 

View along walking track out to Torndirrup Peninsula and Bald Head

Access to the park is via Frenchman Bay Road, which is sealed and well sign-posted. Access to most features is via sealed roads. No other facilities exist within the park but barbecues, tables, shops and toilets can be found nearby at Frenchman Bay.

The park has numerous walks, mostly of a distance of less than 1,500 metres (4,921 ft), including the Jimmy Newhills walk and the Stony Hill Heritage Trail walk. The longest trail is the 10 km (6.2 mi) Bald Head Walk along Flinders peninsula finishing at Bald Head at the eastern edge of the park.

By Hughesdarren (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Hughesdarren (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A A$6.1 million upgrade of facilities at the Gap and the Natural Bridge opened in 2016. The redevelopment included two universally accessible lookout structures, connecting paths, a picnic area, interpretive signage and a car park. A cantilevered grated see-through platform at the Gap rises almost 40 metres (131 ft) above the Southern ocean (also known as Antarctic Ocean) and extends 10 m (33 ft) out from the cliff face, of which 4 m (13 ft) is directly above the ocean.

Fernhook Falls - Walpole Wilderness

Fernhook Falls is more a series of cascades than a single waterfall, and is a lovely spot to visit in the rainy season. In a remote patch of native forest, the Deep River tumbles over rocks through a number of lush pools.  The Deep River has its beginnings 52 km north near Lake Muir and flows through forested areas of National Park including the Walpole-Nornalup National Park and meanders another 42 km before discharging into the Nornalup Inlet. Deep River is one of the purest rivers in the south West because 95% of its journey is through forested catchment areas.

The falls are easily reached up a good gravel road, about 6km from the main highway.  We hadn’t seen a single car all day.  At the car park a trail took us through the bush to the biggest cascade, where the river descends under the road bridge.  It wasn't really cascading, rather just a little trickle stream, but still very pretty, relaxing and peaceful.

The water may not drop a great height, but after rain in winter and spring the horizontal expanse of the main falls and surrounding rapids can be a delightful sight. And a delightful sound too; one not often experienced in the WA bush. It was so quiet with only the sounds of trickling water.  There were numerous small cascades which provided us the opportunity for us to go rock-hopping to find different viewpoints.

Continuing downstream, the trail passes other cascades and ends up at Rowel's pool.   There was a great trail/walkway to follow down the river with toilets and an interpretative centre at the carpark.

 

Wilderness View Lookout - Mount Frankland

We were standing high above the forest floor and enjoyed uninterrupted views of the Walpole Wilderness from the Mount Frankland Wilderness View Lookout.

The granite peak of Mount Frankland (411 metres) dominates the skyline and vegetation ranges from karri, jarrah and tingle forest to vast expanses of treeless heathland.

It was raining heavily so we did not have the opportunity to take it all in, but it was certainly spectacular.

 The walk from the car park to the Wilderness View is only 600m return and is an easy walk. The trail is suitable for wheelchairs

Why the Albany Region is a compelling choice for a relaxing discovery break.

Dedicated Discoverer - Want to escape the daily grind? Looking for an authentic experience? Looking for adventure?

Aspirational Achievers - do you view travel and holidays as a reward for your hard work and success in life? Are you looking for a wine, food and activity based holiday?

Experience Seekers (International) - Do you want to challenge yourself? Visit authentic destinations off the tourist route?  Exposure to unique and compelling experiences? Grow as an individual and stay healthy?

Discover the Albany Region and enjoy a memorable experience in a nature based environment. 

Make the change from Visiting to Discovering and Experiencing.

Albany and our surrounding region offer tourists an experience like no other.
National and local attractions, beautiful natural surrounds and wildlife, farmers markets, events and festivals,  restaurants, bars and shops — Albany has it all.

Add to this the surrounding offerings all within an easy drive—  pristine beaches, national parks and a wonderful selection of regional wineries — Albany Region is a tourism destination which truly has something for everyone.

Early Morning Beach Walk from HideAway Haven

Albany Region for the Aspirational Achievers, Dedicated Discoverers and Experience Seekers

Have you been working too hard lately?

Stress levels through the roof?

Do your energy levels need a serious boost?

It sounds like it is time for you to take action and put your well-being, health and happiness top of your priority list.

Booking and planning a holiday, even if it is still months away, will give you something to look forward to and you will be surprised at how good it makes you feel now.

Our time is limited and as such very precious and our holiday time even more so. For many busy working professionals it is important to book a holiday that can tick lots of boxes – an ultimate combination holiday, complete with experiences, discoveries and achievements. Being able to explore a destination that you have always wanted to go to is a wonderful way to reinvigorate yourself to the wonders of the world and its people. Of course you will need some time to rest and have relax in order to recharge those exhausted batteries. Add in some  feel good factor for your body and soul –yoga is great for your body as well as your mind and soul.

Why not book yourself an Rest and Relax Long Weekend at HideAway Haven.  Try Sup Yoga at one of our many stunning beaches, or Flying High Yoga on your deck, indulge in a massage and end the day with a RAW Food cooking class.  

During your stay why not try one of the many Experiences or Discoveries that our Albany Region has to offer, from Sailing to Abseiling, walking or cycling or just discover some of Albany's rich history, ocean wilderness, food or wine.

Albany Region for the Aspirational Achievers - Munda Biddi Trail

The Munda Biddi Trail is a world-class, nature-based, off-road cycling experience. A unique trail where a 1000km track has been built through an undeveloped natural corridor from Mundaring to Albany.  

The Munda Biddi Trail  means path through the forest in the Nyoongar Aboriginal language.

Enjoy a meandering pace with plenty of opportunities to stop and look at the cattle, goats, horses and other farm animals along the trail. In the quiet of the trail keep your eyes and ears alert for the many different of bird calls from the native birds, enjoy watching small animals such as bandicoots and rabbits running across or beside the trail.  

During the wild-flower season enjoy the beauty of as the forest floors come to life with amazing colours.  Surrounded by nature, relax and enjoy as the trail unfolds through majestic trees, such as the Karri that are the third largest in the whole of Australia.

Cross the suspension bridge at picturesque One Tree Bridge, experience  the splendour of the Walpole Wilderness and beautiful coastal landscapes.

Finish at Albany and enjoy the comfort of a pillow top bed and a Jacuzzi to soothe those muscles.  As a cycle accredited business HideAway Haven offers you the basic repair equipment and air pumps to pump up the tires.  While you are here, Albany is a cycle friendly town with many cycle friendly businesses.