Program

(Click on presenter name to access presentation)

Wednesday 15 September 2021

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8:00am - 8:15am

Delegate Registration

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8:15am - 8:30am

Banquet Hall

Conference Opening

Mr Olman Walley: Welcome to Country
Professor Simon McKirdy: Opening Address by Conference Chair

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8:30am - 9:00am

Banquet Hall

Plenary 1

Professor Stephen van Leeuwen: Indigenous stewardship

Chaired by Professor Simon McKirdy, Murdoch University

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9:00am - 9:30am

Banquet Hall

Plenary 2

Dr Mark Harvey: The Western Australian Terrestrial Fauna: A timely tale of ancient denizens and recent immigrants

Chaired by Professor Simon McKirdy, Murdoch University

Abstract

The Western Australian landscape is ancient, heavily eroded and has not been subject to vulcanism or mountain building since the Mesozoic. This has resulted in a relatively stable biogeographic template on which biotic evolutionary processes have occurred, with a steady increase in lineage diversification and a tendency towards short-range endemism in many taxa. Like all environments, the living WA fauna is inferred to comprise lineages that are derived from in situ Pangean and Gondwanan ancestors, as well as more recently arrived Neogene immigrants. Many of these ancient denizens and recent immigrants have evolved in response to aridification processes and numerous climatic fluctuations since the Miocene. These different patterns – ancient and recent – in our modern fauna are illustrated using selected studies of ancient relicts such as velvet worms, most trapdoor spiders, harvestmen and salamanderfish to more recent arrivals such as Conothele trapdoor spiders. The spectacular radiations of subterranean fauna in the Pilbara and other substrates are derived from ancestors that lived in mesic forests, but permanently moved into underground cavities as the surface environment dried during the Neogene. Examples of these radiations are presented, including pseudoscorpions and schizomids, along with models on how the fauna may have evolved and diversified.

Many taxa are under stress from habitat loss and modification, as well as pests, inappropriate fire regimes, diseases and dryland salinity. Indeed, it is likely that invertebrate species have already become extinct prior to their discovery and formal description in the scientific literature. The rate of description of selected taxa demonstrates that we have a poor knowledge of the total fauna, and require urgent and sustained research into their taxonomy, habitat requirements and threats.

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9:30am - 10:00am

Banquet Hall

Plenary 3

Dr Nicola Mitchell: One small step for a tortoise, one giant leap for species conservation?

Chaired by Professor Simon McKirdy, Murdoch University

Abstract

Assisted colonisation – the introduction of a species outside its indigenous range for conservation purposes – has been suggested for several decades as a pragmatic response to climate change. But, virtually no one has tried it. In this presentation I will describe a collaboration between researchers and managers where assisted colonisation is being trialled to reduce the threat of extinction for a Critically Endangered freshwater tortoise. The western swamp tortoise is a cryptic and long-lived reptile native to Perth and occupies seasonal wetlands on which it depends for food and reproduction. These wetlands have been drying since the 1970s due to groundwater decline and climate change. Beginning in 2016, juvenile tortoises bred in captivity at Perth Zoo were experimentally released into novel wetlands across a 350 km latitudinal gradient to study their growth and physiological performance in alternative habitats. I will illustrate how biophysical modelling contributed to selecting appropriate wetlands, and will evaluate the success of trials of assisted colonisation near the south coast of Western Australia. While we are some way from knowing how best to help species persist through climate change, trialling assisted colonisation more broadly is urgently needed to inform and develop best practice management and policy.

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10:00am - 10:30am

Morning Tea

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10:30am - 12:00Pm

Session 1: Indigenous Stewardship

Chaired by Professor Stephen van Leeuwen, Curtin University

Banquet Hall

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10:30am - 10:45am

Ms Sharon Wood-Kenney (Noongar Yamatji Woman) and Dr Cristina Ramalho: Noongar Water Knowledge in the urban Dyarlgarro Beelier (Canning River) catchment: Implications for land use planning and biodiversity conservation in Perth

Abstract

The Swan and Canning rivers, their tributaries and the many wetlands that cover the Swan Coastal Plain are a fundamental biophysical component of the Perth’s environment. Properly considering the cultural-ecological values associated to these waterways in land use planning can provide a holistic foundation to the fragmented way in which urban lands and waters are often planned and managed.

Noongar knowledge has been gathered over the decades, often in the scope of studies and surveys related with land development. However, this information is scattered across multiple organizations and not easily accessible, including to the Noongar community itself.

In this presentation, we share the journey of a collaborative, interdisciplinary project that has gathered archived information relating to the Noongar values of the wetlands and waterways of the urban Canning River catchment. The project then invited the Noongar community to participate in the interpretation and mapping of the information gathered, through a series of cultural mapping workshops, small group and one-to-one conversations. We share key reflections and learnings on the importance of considering Noongar heritage, knowledge of and connection to Country in conservation planning, biodiversity conservation and urban greening in Perth.

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10:45am - 11:00am

Ms Kylie Weatherall, Ms Monica Edgar (Nyamba Buru Yawuru Country Managers), Ms Sharee Dolby (Nyamba Buru Yawuru Country Managers), Ms Henarlia Rex (Bardi Jawi Oorany Rangers) and Ms Tamara Moore (Bardi Jawi Oorany Rangers): Integrating ecological and cultural knowledge, practice and priorities to collaboratively conserve the Endangered Monsoon Vine Thickets of the Dampier Peninsula

Abstract

The monsoon vine thickets of the Dampier Peninsula are Western Australia’s most southerly rainforest ecosystem, consisting of a network of over 80 coastal patches that occupy less than 1% of the peninsula’s area yet contain 24% of the plant species. The vine thickets are culturally rich, providing important food, medicine, camping and cultural sites, with 98% of vine thicket tree species having a documented cultural use and language name. Unfortunately the vine thickets are threatened by weeds, land-clearing and wildfires, leading to a National Endangered listing in 2013. Since 2009, the Yawuru, Nyul Nyul and Bardi Jawi Rangers have been supported by Environs Kimberley through the Monsoon Vine Thicket Working Group to better document and protect the habitat and its associated culture. This project has developed and utilises right-way science principles which at its core aim to recognise and prioritise cultural knowledge, cultural practice and traditional owners as equal or above scientific knowledge and scientists. Due to this right-way approach, the project has deepened and grown over 12 years, outputting considerable conservation and cultural management effort to document and conserve the vine thickets, document and transfer cultural knowledge, and educate the wider community of their importance. We will discuss how this right-way science approach has led to significant conservation benefits, ecological outcomes, the current and forecast health of the ecosystem and the lessons learned along the way.

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11:00am - 11:15am

Mr Errol Samson (Jigalong Ranger), Mr Kenneth Siddon (Jigalong Ranger) and Ms Hannah Cliff (10 Deserts Project): Fire management programs in the desert: what has been achieved to date?

Abstract

Hot season wildfires are one of the most significant threats to biodiversity in Australia’s spinifex-dominated deserts. In response to this threat, numerous land management organisations are implementing fire management programs across a range of desert systems. These programs aim to shift fire patterns away from being dominated by increasingly large, severe, hot season wildfires in the absence of management and towards to a pattern which more closely resembles the traditional fire regime, where fires burn less country overall, and individual fires are smaller, patchier and less severe. Over time this will lead to a finer patchwork of more diverse fire ages across the landscape. Previous research suggests that by shifting fire patterns in this direction fire-sensitive fauna and vegetation communities will be better protected and managed areas will be able to support a greater range of species overall. 

While the total desert area being managed for fire continues to grow, there remain few examples where desert fire management has been large-scale and sustained over the past decade. This research explores the extent to which the fire patterns at four different sites have shifted since management programs began and identifies some remaining challenges to ensuring that such programs deliver the intended environmental outcomes. 

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11:15am - 11:30am

Mr Braedan Taylor (Karajarri Traditional Lands Association) and Mr Jesse Ala’i (Karajarri Traditional Lands Association): Fire management, cultural knowledge, and biodiversity of the desert on Karajarri and Ngurrara country

Abstract

The Karajarri Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) and the Warlu Jilajaa Jumu IPA (on the Ngurrara native title area) together cover over 4 million hectares of the Great Sandy Desert in north-west Australia. The Karajarri and Ngurrara rangers have been collaborating in a project that aims to support fire management, cultural knowledge and biodiversity over the desert of our country. We have established 24 permanent monitoring sites in three areas, at sites with different fire histories, and have monitored small mammals and reptiles for three years, amounting to more than 5000 trapnights. Our trapping results show that the number of mammal species, and their abundance, goes down after fire and takes several years to recover. Patterns in the reptiles are more complex: the overall number of species is steady as vegetation recovers after fire, but the types of species change depending on when the site was last burnt: some species are almost only found in recently burnt sites, and other reptiles species prefer long-unburnt spinifex. We found that recently burnt sites have more reptile species that are active at night, but sites with recovered spinifex have more reptile species that are active during the day. Our results tell us that fire management that keeps a variety of vegetation ages across our country will help to maintain a diverse reptile community, and that long unburnt vegetation is critical for looking after small mammals. We have also examined fire patterns from the 1940s using aerial photographs, when people were still living on desert country. These photos tell us that the fire frequency 80 years ago was much lower than it is today, and the fire patch sizes were much smaller. Our work is helping us set the objectives for our fire management, and helping us talk with our communities about the cultural management of fire. By collaborating and sharing data, we are able to tell a stronger story.

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11:30am - 11:45am

Dr Martin Dziminski, Mr Bruce Greatwich, Ms Chantelle Murray (Ngurrara Rangers), Ms Sumayah Surprise (Ngurrara Rangers), Mr Darren Smith (Ngurrara Rangers), Mr William Watson (Nyikina Mangala Rangers), Mr Jeremiah Green (Nyikina Mangala Rangers), Mr Claude Carter (Gooniyandi Rangers), Mr Bevan Green (Gooniyandi Rangers) and Mr Russell Chestnut (Gooniyandi Rangers): Distribution and abundance of the greater bilby in the Fitzroy Catchment: A Kimberley stronghold

Abstract

The greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis) occurred across much of arid Australia, however, since European colonisation, abundance has declined, and their distribution has contracted towards the northwest. Bilbies are now only found in 20% of their former range. The Kimberley Region in the northwest of Australia has been identified as an important stronghold for wild bilby populations. The Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions partnered with the National Environmental Science Program Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub, the Nyikina Mangala, Gooniyandi, Kija, Ngurrara and Bunuba Rangers, the Kimberley Land Council and Environs Kimberley to survey the occupancy, abundance and habitat suitability for bilbies in this area focusing on the Fitzroy Catchment. Standardised 2 ha sign plots were surveyed multiple times and remote cameras were used to record the presence of bilbies and introduced fauna species. Abundance of key populations was surveyed using DNA extracted from bilby scats. Our survey confirmed the persistence of bilby populations in this area. Next steps are to identify management actions necessary to protect these important wild populations from further contractions due to ongoing threats.

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11:45am - 12:00pm

Ms Annette Williams (Mantjiljarra Yulparirra Director), Ms Yvonne Ashwin, (Matuwa Kurrara Kurrara IPA Management Team) and Dr Dorian Moro: Connecting Indigenous knowledge, science and people on Matuwa and Kurrara Kurrara Indigenous Protected Area
Abstract

“White fella science and Martu science is the right way”
“Keep stories going for the young ones to learn”

Within the Wiluna Native Title Determination are the Tarlka Matuwa Piarku Martu people, the Traditional Owners and custodians of the Matuwa and Kurrara Kurrara Indigenous Protected Area (IPA). Martu vision for this area is to make sure it remains a place where Martu law and culture are practiced, and that Country is made healthier. An IPA Management Team oversees the direction of management and learning, including the sciences, for the IPA. It is the aspiration of the MKK IPA Management Team that the IPA becomes a hub for best-practice two-way science projects. The IPA Management Team have workshopped to develop a Ngaparrtji Ngaparrtji (two-way) Science Plan as a starting point for developing projects that will empower Martu and provide them with genuine opportunities to steward their culture to future generations. This plan first defines what Martu believe good (two-way) science looks like, and then outlines strategies to be implemented within the IPA. These strategies include: On-ground projects to look after rare species on Country (Bilby; Night Parrot; Golden Bandicoot); introduced predator control (feral cats, foxes); fire management; working with researchers; training opportunities; and partnering with the Wiluna School. Two-way science has some momentum to integrate Martu knowledge into remote community schools as a way of connecting children and teachers with Martu elders and ‘white fella’ researchers on Country. Two-way science at Wiluna is led by Martu elders who steward culture and Martu knowledge through an intergenerational knowledge exchange. This collaborative approach is appropriate when there is recognition of the value that each group (Martu, teachers, Western scientists) brings to a project for the benefit of people and Country, when all groups involved have a shared interest in the project outcomes, and whose learnings contribute to the health and wellbeing of future Martu generations. Three Ngaparrtji Ngaparrtji examples will be shared: Warrawulu week, searching for bilby, and ladies culture and heritage trips.

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12:00pm - 12:05pm

Western Australian Marine Science Institution: A short film on the Gaarrogoon Guardians Bardi Jawi Rangers
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12:05pm - 1:00pm

Lunch Break

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1:00pm - 2:30pm

Session 2: Threats and Their Impact

Chaired by Dr Bruce Webber, WABSI

Club Auditorium

Session 3: Technology and Innovation

Chaired by Dr Carina Marshall, The University of Western Australia

Banquet Hall

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1:00pm - 1:15pm

Mr Ricky Van Dongen: Measuring the impact of feral goat removal on island environments using satellite imagery

Abstract

Bernier and Dorre Islands are located in the Shark Bay World Heritage area in Western Australia. The islands provide refuge for migratory and threatened fauna. In May 1984 goat eradication on Bernier Island was undertaken. While there was no official declaration of eradication it is believed that goats were eradicated by 1985. Satellite imagery from the Landsat series of satellites was used to analyse the impact on vegetation cover of this eradication.

Landsat imagery is only available from 1988 and therefore does not allow for a pre-eradication “baseline” vegetation cover level to be determined. Predictive vegetation cover models were created using long term rainfall data. These models show that since 1997 rainfall has been an accurate predictor of vegetation cover, however prior to this, vegetation cover was up to 15 % lower than what would be expected. It was assumed that this deviation was a sign of a general increase in vegetation cover following the 1985 goat removal. A reduction in sand dune area was also observed.

The observations on Bernier Island mirror those seen on Dirk Hartog Island since the removal of feral goats there between 2010 and 2017. In the case of Dirk Hartog Island a substantial pre eradication archive of satellite imagery exists. This allowed baseline cover levels to be determined and the impact of eradication to be measured against this baseline. The examples at both Bernier Island and Dirk Hartog Island firstly document the impact of feral goat removal on island environments and also demonstrate differing analysis methods that can be used to measure the impact of current and historical management actions.

Dr Mieke van der Heyde: Taking eDNA underground: Factors affecting eDNA detection of subterranean fauna

Abstract

Despite considerable research in the last decade, much of the subterranean fauna of Australia remains poorly known. The subterranean fauna comprises ancient taxon groups (>40 million years), which are predominantly short-range endemics that are found in aquatic (stygofauna) or terrestrial (troglofauna) underground habitats. Because of their small size and cryptic appearance, detecting and distinguishing subterranean fauna by morphology alone is extremely difficult. Environmental DNA (eDNA)-based methods have real potential to dramatically improve on existing species detection approaches because they can be applied to detect subterranean fauna in a large range of habitats and at all life stages of species, without requiring specialized taxonomic expertise, providing a rigorous approach for assessment and monitoring of groundwater ecosystems. eDNA is genetic material that has been shed into the environment by organisms, which can be collected by extracting DNA from substrates such as water or soil. We are investigating factors that may influence eDNA detection of biodiversity including depth of sampling, sample type (water or sediment), and physicochemical properties of the water. Samples were collected from 17 groundwater wells on an island northwest of WA, and subterranean fauna were collected and identified in the field to provide a morphological comparison. Our results indicate greater subterranean fauna diversity could be detected from shallow water samples with higher dissolved oxygen content, compared to deeper samples or sediment. Additionally, the comparison between morphological and eDNA based assessment revealed greater diversity using DNA; however, assays were biased against certain taxa. Overall, eDNA methods can greatly improve survey of subterranean fauna, but further development of sampling protocols and eDNA assays is required.

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1:15pm - 1:30pm

Dr Narelle Dybing: Double trouble: The parasite and predation threat from wild dogs

Abstract

Wild dogs (dingoes and hybrids with domestic dogs) are present throughout much of Australia; the density and distribution within the intensive agricultural area has also been increasing over the last decade. They have significant financial impacts on livestock industries across Australia through livestock predation, decreased reproduction, as well as disease/parasite transmission (e.g. hydatids and Neospora). The presence of these predators therefore brings increased risk of parasite transmission to livestock, humans, and domestic pets. Necropsies were conducted on animals trapped as part of control around livestock production areas in the southern rangelands and northern intensive agricultural area. Ectoparasites were identified at necropsy, with 23% of the 30 dogs examined to date harbouring the dog louse (Heterodoxus spiniger) and 6% of dogs carried the stickfast flea (Echidnophaga gallinacea). There was no evidence of the brown dog tick (which is responsible for transmission of Ehrlichia canis, a nationally notifiable disease that has spread amongst dogs across northern Australia over the last year), or any other ticks. Five helminth species were identified, with 65% infected with at least one or more parasite species. These parasites include Toxocara canis, Oslerus osleri, Taenia hydatigena, Spirometra erinaceieuropaei and an unknown hookworm. All of these parasites are capable of infecting domestic pets (i.e. dogs and cats) and most can infect and be transmitted by red foxes and/or feral cats as well. Many of these parasites are also found on native wildlife, including mammals and birds. There has been no evidence of hydatids or Taenia ovis (the cysts of which are responsible for ‘sheep measles’), although wild dog incursions are becoming more frequent, and some future transmission of notifiable or zoonotic disease is increasingly likely.

Dr Joel Huey: Environmental DNA for targeted environmental surveys

Abstract

The potential value of environmental DNA (eDNA) for environmental surveys is unparalleled. Detecting species in the environment, without physically sampling organisms has the potential to revolutionise how monitoring and baseline surveys are undertaken. However, examples of eDNA applications that translate to practical management decisions or environmental approvals are not widely available. We propose that a powerful application of eDNA is to complement secondary or “targeted” surveys for high-risk subterranean fauna. The rapid rollout of an eDNA sampling program could then confirm where species’ distributions extend beyond impacts, and potentially direct future sampling to ground truth eDNA results.

Here, we present a collaborative project between Biologic Environmental Survey, Genotyping Australia, and Rio Tinto Iron Ore, which provides framework for integrating eDNA sampling and analysis into targeted subterranean fauna surveys. An example of how this framework can be implemented is given for a targeted survey of two syncarids and two amphipods in the Greater Paraburdoo region of the Pilbara, Western Australia. We demonstrate the successful amplification of target eDNA from the groundwater using SYBR Green assays, confirmed with Sanger sequencing of amplicons. Challenges and future directions are discussed in the context of Environmental Impact Assessments.

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1:30pm - 1:45pm

Dr Judy Dunlop: Increasing knowledge to mitigate cat impacts on biodiversity

Abstract

Cats (Felis catus) were introduced to Australia over 200 years ago, cover the entire mainland and many offshore islands, and are recognised to be a significant and ongoing threat to Australia’s native animals. Like other non-native invasive species issues, the threats from cats are tenure-blind. Managing feral cats therefore requires a coordinated and collaborative approach. The Western Australian Feral Cat Working Group (WAFCWG) was formed to improve outcomes for biodiversity by better management of cats and operates under three key pillars: making existing information more accessible, prioritising future research, and coordinating effective management by all stakeholders. The broad group includes input from conservation agencies, state government, traditional owners, universities, NGOs, regulatory groups and NRM groups, across research, management and end-user roles. Here we showcase our one-stop-shop website allowing people to access up-to-date information, techniques and best practice management of feral cats, and provide insight into the current collaborative research projects being facilitated by the Working Group.

Ms Emma Stevens: Monitoring fish assemblages in the Canning River: Establishing environmental DNA as a monitoring tool and determining a best practice protoco

Abstract

Freshwater ecosystems are incredibly important hosts of biodiversity and offer a wide range of ecosystem services. However, these systems are increasingly altered through over-extraction, the addition of dams, presence of invasive species and pollution. Australian rivers are not exempt from these global trends, and many require sound management to preserve and enhance their unique biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide. Sound management decisions for biodiversity require robust and efficient monitoring efforts to understand both the system and the management efforts required. Traditionally monitoring vertebrate biodiversity requires physically capturing and identifying fish. In the last decade environmental DNA (eDNA) monitoring has emerged as an efficient complement to traditional methods. eDNA is conventionally captured through active filtration, pumping water through a membrane to concentrate DNA. However, a novel method of sampling for eDNA, passive sampling, has recently emerged as a potential means to monitor fish in a marine environment. Here, we investigate the potential of eDNA to monitor fish assemblages, on the highly modified Canning River in Perth, Western Australia by comparing fish assembly data from (1) traditional fyke netting, (2) active filtration eDNA capture, and (3) passive eDNA capture. Ten sites were chosen, spaced between dams and weirs, barriers to fish movement, to explore the sensitivity of eDNA and the role that barriers play in halting the invasion of the Pearl Cichlid (Geophagus brasiliensis). We expect that eDNA will detect the same range of fish species as detected by fyke netting efforts and have a greater sensitivity in detecting species in low densities, specifically the invasion front of G. brasiliensis. The implications of this research are the development of an eDNA monitoring protocol to complement traditional monitoring methods, leading to the potential for greater stewardship of the Canning River.

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1:45pm - 2:00pm

Dr Brian Chambers: Mesoscale feral cat control in the Southern Jarrah Forest using felixer traps

Abstract

Effective and sustainable control of feral cats is the key to the long-term conservation of numerous native species outside of fenced enclosures. We will report on the results of the first stage of a meso-scale trial of Felixer™ cat grooming traps in the southern jarrah forest. Six to eight Felixer™ traps were deployed for 8 weeks over two 13,000ha sites. Felixer™ trap deployment was informed from feral cat density and movement data in this habitat type with the SECR Design R package used to simulate the likely results of the Felixer™ deployment. The SECR design modelling suggested that it would be possible to achieve a greater than 80% reduction in feral cat density with 8 traps deployed over an 8 week period. Feral cat density and activity was monitored using 50 remote cameras set across each site, with an additional control site also monitored. Safe mode testing confirmed that the Felixer™ traps are extremely safe for native species in this area with only 1 mis-identified target, a tammar wallaby, from 1953 triggers.

Mr Shae Callan: A new framework for 3D modelling of subterranean fauna habitats

Abstract

The Pilbara and Yilgarn regions are recognised as global biodiversity hot-spots for subterranean fauna, yet full comprehension of subterranean fauna habitats remains elusive. Western Australia’s multibillion-dollar mining industries rely on adequate habitat assessment to ensure that subterranean fauna biodiversity and ecological integrity are maintained during proposed developments. Nevertheless, current methods for characterising and assessing subterranean habitats are often uncertain, unstandardised, poorly quantified, difficult to visualise, and highly inferential. In collaboration with Rio Tinto, Biologic Environmental has produced a new framework for three-dimensional (3D) modelling of subterranean fauna habitats. The framework combines detailed subterranean fauna knowledge and sampling data with advanced geological modelling capabilities to produce a rigorous 3D representation of the potential subterranean habitat throughout the area of investigation. ‘Big data’ sourced from geological and hydrogeological investigations are leveraged to demonstrate the 3D spatial variability of subterranean fauna habitats, their suitability, extent, and connectivity throughout the landscape. Within the limits of available data, multiple sources are used to validate the modelling, and specialist expertise is employed to check models against broader geological and hydrogeological conceptualisations. 3D modelling complements and enhances traditional subterranean fauna habitat assessment, providing an improved basis for:
* investigating the links between habitat and species occurrence patterns;
* predictions of the potential wider occurrence of singleton species;
* assessment of ‘habitat surrogates’ as described in EPA guidelines; and
* quantitative impact assessment of multiple potential development scenarios, and predicted recovery.
This presentation describes the 3D modelling framework, its applications for impact assessment, and its peer review prior to regulatory submission.

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2:00pm - 2:15pm

Dr Ian RadfordUsing functional responses to threatening processes for informing conservation of Kimberley mammal diversity

Abstract

Northern Australia has undergone major declines among threatened small and medium sized mammals in recent decades. Conceptual models explaining declines postulate that predation by feral cats is the primary driver, with changed disturbance regimes in recent decades reducing habitat cover and exacerbating declines. In this study we test the hypothesis that cats and changing habitat cover/disturbance variables explain threatened mammal assemblage patterns in the Kimberley region of norther WA? This was done using repeated measures mammal abundance and richness data at 94 sites between 2011 to 2019. Repeated measures analysis allowed us to account for site variability. As postulated, habitat structural complexity, local disturbance by fire and cattle, and the presence of predators had the greatest explanatory power for mammal assemblages. Vegetation structural attributes (particularly shrub cover) had higher explanatory power in non-rocky woodlands where there was no rock cover. Dingo abundance, arboreal habitat features (e.g. basal area, tree cover, tree density) and seasonal differences (rainfall, grass cover, litter cover) explained little of the variation in mammal assemblage. Explanatory variables were consistent across multiple scales (from local <1 km radius up to landscape 10 km radius scale). These results agree with recent studies in highlighting the need for management to promote retention of vegetation cover (particularly of shrub and fruiting trees), maintain low intensity patchy fire regimes, reduce extent of intense late dry season wildfires, and to reduce the impact of introduced herbivores including cattle. This study provides further empirical support for the role of feral cats in northern mammal declines. Future research should investigate cat control methods for extensive threatened landscapes.

Dr Benjamin Anderson: Helping to resolve difficult taxonomic complexes of conservation importance in Western Australia with ddRAD population genomics

Abstract

There are over 13,000 vascular plant species in Western Australia, and more than 2300 of those are considered threatened or in urgent need of survey and conservation. One of the key steps in conserving these species is to understand how they are related to and distinguished from their close relatives. Knowing how to tell species apart in taxonomically challenging groups enables conservation managers to determine which species are in critical need of protection and which are less threatened. As part of the Genomics for Australian Plants (GAP) Conservation Genomics initiative, we undertook fieldwork to sample groups of closely-related species, including representatives of conservation concern and critically endangered, in four genera (Geleznowia, Isopogon, Synaphea, and Wurmbea) to resolve existing and suspected taxonomic issues hindering effective conservation management. Multiple populations were sampled in spring 2020 (4–6 samples/population), along with outgroups, totalling 188 samples per genus. DNA extractions from the field samples were sent to Bioplatforms Australia for ddRAD sequencing, a method for the generation of thousands of genomic markers appropriate for population genomic analyses. Sequencing has been ongoing, and the first data for Geleznowia and Wurmbea have recently been made available for preliminary analysis. We will present details of the study design and organisms, as well as initial results from exploratory analyses. The first genomic data are already showing potential for distinguishing new taxa and revealing unexpected genetic complexity in morphologically cohesive groups.

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2:15pm - 2:30pm

Dr Trish Fleming: Comparing the diet and conservation impacts of red fox and feral cats

Abstract

Domestic cats were introduced to Australia about 250 years ago, with feral populations quickly dispersing across the continent. The red fox was introduced about 150 years ago, with animals establishing across all but tropical northern Australia. Both introduced predators have been implicated in extinction and suppression of many native wildlife populations.

Continent-wide review confirms that foxes are opportunistic in what they eat, taking both live prey and carrion. They consume mammals of all sizes (e.g. small mammals such as rodents 21±19%, dasyurids 6±9%, medium-sized mammals 19±30%, large mammals 10±16%). Foxes are also a significant threat to livestock (14±22%), consuming lambs, piglets and poultry. They take bird (13±11%) and reptile (10±15%) prey across all body sizes, and commonly consume plant material (26±25%). By contrast, cats are a lot more specific in what they eat. They will only rarely take plant material or carrion. They consume similar amounts of small mammals as foxes (rodents 28±21%; dasyurids 10±11%), but far fewer medium-sized mammals (4±9%). Their threat to large mammals and livestock (6±8%) is also minimal. However, cats are twice as likely to consume birds (27±17%) and 2.4x more likely to consume reptiles (24±21%).

Both foxes and cats consume a large number of invertebrates (fox: 38±26%, cat: 36±19%). Both species also exploit rabbits when they are present (fox: 21±22%, cat: 26±26%), but when rabbits are removed via biocontrol, foxes (which increase their intake of invertebrates and carrion) show a greater decline in numbers than cats (which switch to reptiles, birds and invertebrates).

While there is substantial dietary overlap, with many prey species taken by both predators, the greater incidence of large mammals by foxes, and greater incidence of birds and reptiles by cats indicate somewhat complementary diets. Cats are known to consume more species of Australian reptiles, birds and mammals than for foxes.

Dr Karen Bell: Using DNA sequencing to detect plant-pollinator interactions

Abstract

Plant-pollinator interactions are traditionally detected by observing flower visitations, or by microscopic identification of pollen carried by flower visitors. The latter integrates information from multiple flower visits by each visitor and thus can provide more information with less field time, but requires substantial laboratory time and expertise. DNA sequencing methods can allow for much higher throughput identification of pollen. In this talk I will present methods, developed with past colleagues at Emory University, USA, for identifying pollen in mixed-species samples through DNA metabarcoding (i.e. simultaneous sequencing of a DNA barcode from all species in a mixture), and whole genome shotgun (WGS) metagenomics (i.e. simultaneous sequencing of genome fragments from all species in a mixture). These methods were validated using mock communities of known pollen species composition, and both were found to provide accurate taxonomic identification. WGS sequencing was found to be more quantitative and have improved taxonomic resolution, but depends on availability of reference genome sequences and is more expensive, making it currently unfeasible in most study systems. With colleagues at CSIRO, I have used the previously-developed DNA metabarcoding methods to identify diet species for the little red flying fox (Pteropus scapulatus) and two other flying fox species in North Queensland, and I will present some of the data from this research. While metagenomics methods are currently not feasible for this particular study system, it is expected that in the near future these methods will be feasible for many if not most study systems. I will briefly discuss some of the trends that give rise to these expectations, and what this could mean for the future of DNA-based high-throughput detections of plant-pollinator interactions.

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2:30pm - 3:00pm

Afternoon Tea Break

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3:00pm - 4:30pm

Session 4: Threats and Their Impact

Chaired by Dr Shashi Sharma, Murdoch University

Club Auditorium

Session 5: Technology and Innovation

Chaired by Dr Saul Cowan, DBCA

Banquet Hall

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3:00pm - 3:15pm

Prof Erika Techera: Beyond our western horizon: Improving the legal landscape to better protect marine biodiversity in the Indian Ocean

Abstract

The Indian Ocean region extends from our western shore across 1 million sq km and is home to myriad marine species. We depend upon them for food and livelihood security, economic activities, as well as recreation and cultural pursuits. These species are increasingly impacted by human activities, climate change and natural phenomena. Law has a vital role to play in building marine biodiversity resilience. Whilst global solutions have focused on international treaties, and nations have responded with local legislation, there has been a lack of Indian Ocean pan-regional legal responses. The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is a potential vehicle to develop laws to support marine conservation and restoration. It has already adopted Action Plans and Work Programmes that identify biodiversity risks and issues from plastic pollution, to illegal fishing and tourism development. Yet IORA has not yet adopted any binding biodiversity agreements. Australia has already played a significant leadership role in the region, with an assurance it will continue to do so in the future. The Foreign Policy White Paper commits Australia to strengthening regional architecture in the Indian Ocean, including through IORA and by addressing the protection of the marine environment. This presentation will explore the Indian Ocean region and its multiple diversities, as well as the marine biodiversity challenges identified by IORA, and, in response, the activities agreed to by the 22 member States. Two potential regional legal options will be highlighted: model laws and regional treaties. As Western Australia is on the Indian Ocean rim, it is of fundamental interest and importance to appreciate challenges and opportunities in this ocean, and champion Australia’s western focus.

Mrs Janine Kuehs: Calculating home range in days, not months: New approaches offer hope for home range analysis for hard-to-track species

Abstract

Quenda (Isoodon fusciventer) have undergone significant range reductions since European settlement, persisting in remnants of their former distributions. Having recently been classified as a distinct species, it is unclear what the current extent or home range size of this species is, or how quenda may be responding to urban pressures. Home range and habitat utilisation studies on bandicoots are limited, partly due to limitations with tracking methods and analysis techniques. Traditionally, home range analysis requires that data is collected over a long-time frame (e.g. 30 days) to account for statistical independence of data points. However, bandicoots are notoriously difficult to collar limiting long term tracking. Other methods such as live-trapping, spool and line tracking, and fluorescent powder are less accurate or cover too short a time period (less than a day). New technology and advances in statistical methods offer new opportunities to address this knowledge gap. We used high-resolution glue-on GPS loggers to track 45 quenda around Mandurah, Western Australia. Devices fell off after 0.5–7 days but provided sufficient data for 18 reliable home range estimates. Home range was analysed using continuous time movement models (ctmm) that account for the autocorrelated nature of high-resolution GPS data. Home range estimates ranged from 1–36 hectares, with n=10 females (3.19 ± 2.56 SD ha) having significantly smaller home ranges than n=12 males (25.4 ± 25.1 SD ha) (t-test assuming unequal variances, t11=-3.04, p=0.006). The implications for this study are important for rapid low-cost monitoring and improved management of urban quenda populations. The methods will also be relevant for other hard-to-track species.

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3:15pm - 3:30pm

Dr Gavan McGrath: Changing estuarine processes impacting the hydroperiod of a temperate coastal saltmarsh

Abstract

Temperate coastal saltmarsh communities in southwest Australian estuaries are experiencing a significant shift in their hydrological regime, principally from reduced river flows, as well as sea-level rise. As river flows decline, tides will propagate upriver to a greater degree, therefore the amplitude of estuarine tides may have compensated somewhat for reduced flooding events by river runoff. A hydrological study of Ashfield Flats Reserve on the Swan River Estuary was undertaken between 2019 and 2020. The reserve contains the largest remaining example of temperate coastal saltmarsh in the estuary. The data analysis conducted a disaggregation of estuarine processes contributing to water levels revealing the strong interaction of the wetland with the river and relative contributions to flooding from various tidal processes, atmospheric pressure and river flow variations. Tides currently dominated flooding events of relevance to halophyte habitat distribution. Modelling suggests that by 2090, in the absence of significant sediment deposition, the available halophyte habitat at Ashfield will be greatly reduced, due to a shift from ephemeral to perennial inundation. It is crucial future research address the present uncertainty as to whether future estuarine hydrology can deliver and deposit sediments at a rate to match sea-level rise. Adaptive management of these threatened ecological communities may need to consider means to assess and/or promote the capability of saltmarshes to capture and retain sediments.

Ms Sarah Comer: Kyloring calling: Acoustic monitoring informs management of the critically endangered Western Ground Parrot

Abstract

The challenges of monitoring a rare and cryptic species like the western ground parrot (Pezoporus flaviventris) have been alleviated by advances in the development of acoustic monitoring equipment and techniques. Autonomous recording units (ARUs) have been used for the past 10 years to complement human observers in monitoring ground parrots. Since 2012, we have used ARUs extensively to monitor occupied habitat and trends in populations, survey historical habitat and follow up on reported sightings. In 2019 a landscape scale network of ARUs was established to collect data for modelling ground parrot occupancy and distribution. This network has provided an opportunity to track whole population trends over time, inform management strategies and decisions, and evaluate the response to management of introduced predators and fire.

Although providing a consistent and flexible approach to monitoring, manual analysis of large volumes of data collected by ARUs requires a significant time resource. Automated analysis of ARU data addresses this issue, but often results in numerous false positive and false negative identifications. Investigating optimal analytical approaches to improve accuracy in processing acoustic data has been the subject of a recent collaboration with UWA. Understanding the limitations of the software and developing tools to address challenges in data analysis and interpretation are essential to enable robust longer-term monitoring of population trends in ground parrots and other cryptic threatened birds.

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3:30pm - 3:45pm

Mr Shovon Chandra Sarkar: Response of Western Australian native generalist predators to a newly invasive pest, tomato potato psyllid

Abstract

The invasive pest tomato potato psyllid (TPP, Bactericera cockerelli Šulc (Hemiptera: Triozidae)) was first detected on mainland Australia in Perth, Western Australia in February 2017 and poses a threat for Western Australian vegetable industries. Arthropod generalist predators are widespread in WA insect communities. Invasion of an exotic pest may alter the insect ecosystem and resident predators may play important role in managing them. The invasion of TPP provides a unique opportunity to develop its conservation biological control strategy through existing arthropod predator communities. The purpose of this study was to identify the resident arthropods which can prey upon TPP, evaluate their potential impact and identify effective management actions for using them. Sampling of TPP and their predators was performed in different Solanaceae fields north of Perth, Western Australia. Sweep-net sampling and trapping were carried out at four different sites a number of times through the crop cycle. Green lacewing was most the abundant generalist predator, followed by ladybird beetle and pirate bugs. Using molecular gut content analysis technique, we examined whether the various larval and adult stages of the different predator species were using TPP as a food source in the Australian cropping environment. Our research highlights the potential of existing generalist arthropod predators to contribute toward regulating populations of TPP in the field and thus their importance in conservation biological control. This is the first report documenting predation of resident arthropod species on this invasive pest TPP in Australian field conditions.

Ms Kelly Rayner: Monitoring the outcomes of ecological interventions on Dirk Hartog Island through small vertebrates and landscape-scale vegetation

Abstract

Baselines of key indicator variables are essential for monitoring and evaluating the success of an intervention in an ecosystem. Such interventions may include the eradication of non-native fauna, as part of ecological restoration program.

The first stage of the Dirk Hartog Island National Park Ecological Restoration Project involved the eradications of sheep, goats and feral cats, commencing after the island became a National Park in 2009 and were completed in 2017/18. It was predicted that eradications of ungulates would lead to an increase in vegetation cover and populations of small vertebrates would also increase, as a result of improved habitat and the absence of predation by feral cats.

Satellite imagery of Dirk Hartog Island, captured since 1987, has been used to establish a baseline of the island’s vegetation and is now being used to monitor its recovery. These data have shown that since the commencement of the eradication, vegetation cover has significantly increased over 39% of the island.

A trapping program to monitor the small vertebrate populations on Dirk Hartog Island was undertaken annually between 2005 and 2009 and again since 2017. Results suggest that populations of small mammals and some reptiles are recovering well, but this may be only partly due to the eradications. Other taxa such as dragons appear to have declined since the eradications, the reasons for which are not well understood.

These studies highlight the value of baseline datasets and provide an insight into the impact interventions such as eradications can have on biodiversity.

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3:45pm - 4:00pm

Ms Mia Hunt: Community-led dieback management in Western Australia: Regional NRM groups creating innovative solutions that match and complement government and universities

Abstract

Phytophthora Dieback, caused by the soil-borne pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi, is a major threat to ecosystems throughout the southwest of Western Australia (WA). Around 40% of native species in the region are susceptible to this disease, resulting in the devastation of large areas of habitat, including high value Threatened Ecological Communities such as Proteaceae Dominated Kwongkan Shrublands.

South Coast Natural Resource Management (South Coast NRM) has been the leading non-government agency managing Phytophthora Dieback in WA since 2005, having successfully managed significant funds and in-kind support to deliver on-ground protection and develop mapping tools, planning handbooks, and behaviour change resources. Having built a sound reputation for delivery through strong, long-term collaboration, South Coast NRM developed and published the State Phytophthora Dieback Management and Investment Framework, which is the first truly strategic, tenure-blind, prioritised list of investment areas for Phytophthora Dieback in WA. In 2018, South Coast NRM secured funding through the State NRM program for implementation of on-ground activities which will safeguard six priority protection areas identified in the aforementioned framework from the introduction of Dieback disease.

This presentation will explore the process employed by South Coast NRM between 2019 and 2021 to enact this implementation, including stakeholder consultation, occurrence surveys and assessments, collaborative planning workshops, on-ground protection activities, and engagement and extension initiatives. A a case study of the Mount Desmond Priority Protection Area, located ten kilometres southeast of the town of Ravensthorpe within the Ravensthorpe Range will be presented. Going forward, South Coast NRM advocate for the adoption of this community-led process as best-practice for land managers looking to protect natural assets from the spread of Phytophthora Dieback.

Dr Adrian Gleiss: Marine megafauna in the era of big data: Animal motion sensing and machine learning provide novel insights into intractable species

Abstract

Identifying and mitigating threats to the viability of animal populations is highly dependent on our understanding of the ecological requirements of individuals of a species. Large, mobile marine vertebrates provide unique challenges in this regard, as they are not easily observed, and subsequently basic ecological data is often lacking. Advances in sensor technology fuelled by the proliferation of personal technology are having an equally transformational impact on the study of marine megafauna as they have had on humanity. A plethora of sensors from animal-attached miniature video camera, motion-sensors provide rare opportunities to quantify the activities and behaviours of marine megafauna when out of sight. When coupled to modern machine learning techniques, these can provide unparalleled insight into the underwater world of the most intractable species. Here, I will illustrate the application of these emerging “bio-logging” tags in the study of marine megafauna, while highlighting how these tags will continue to provide both fundamental insight into the biology of poorly understood species, but also how these data can provide insight into the impacts of human activities.

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4:00pm - 4:15pm

Ms Lisa-Jane Hults: Biosecurity management in extractive industries

Abstract

Hanson is an extractive industry company working on a culture of environmental best practice through research partnerships extending back over 25 years with most research institutions in Western Australia. This research has resulted in extensive amounts of Banksia Woodland being restored across the Swan Coastal Plain.

To protect the remanent vegetation and the restored banksia woodland within post extraction areas (including within areas post pine), Hanson refined our operational activities to ensure the biosecurity of our operational sites was exceptional. To do this, eight years ago, Hanson became involved with the Dieback Working Group (DWG), as part of the executive team, to learn and provide practical advice about how to manage biosecurity issues.

A highlight of this work is our involvement in the development the Best Practice Guidelines for Management of Phytophthora Dieback in Basic Raw Materials Industries. The Guide provides a framework to set the extractive industry up for success by making available the best practice techniques adopted from Hanson’s journey and collaboration with other passionate highly qualified individuals from within the DWG. These best practice guidelines outline ways in which BRM producers and suppliers can minimise the spread of Phytophthora Dieback. They are not intended to be prescriptive but illustrate the best practice management techniques used by many companies in the BRM industry in the south-west of WA.

Whilst there are various guidelines available that cover general hygiene management for Phytophthora Dieback, none specifically outline the management practices for the BRM industry. These guidelines cover information on correct hygiene management protocols for a number of activities such as Exploration, Clearing and Stripping, Extraction, Loading and Transport, and Mine Closure.

A/Prof Parwinder Kaur: Biotechnology and Bioprospecting: To better understand, conserve and utilize biodiversity!

Abstract

Australia is a megadiverse continent, containing an array of plants and animals found nowhere else. The DNA Zoo Australia is dedicated to generating and sharing knowledge about these remarkable species, unpacking and documenting in extraordinary detail at their DNA level. These efforts provide further evidence to describe the richness of the natural world, and to understand the next steps in documenting the complex legacy of millions of years of evolution.

Southwest Australia, also known as the Kwongan, is one of 25 original global hotspots for wildlife and plants, and the first one identified in Australia. We have exceptional concentrations of endemic species undergoing exceptional loss of habitat. As many as 44% of all species of native plants and 35% of all species in four animal groups are confined to the original 25 hotspots globally, which comprise only 1.4% of Earth’s land surface. WA has more than its fair share of unusual native plant and animal species.

During the last two decades, classical strategies of evaluating genetic variability, such as morphology and physiology, have been greatly complemented by phylogenetic, taxonomic, genetic diversity and breeding research molecular studies. At present, initiatives are taking place around the world to generate DNA barcode reference libraries to better understand, conserve and utilize biodiversity.

The high-quality reference genomic resources provide a rich resource of already preserved and identified material, and these as well as freshly collected samples from the wild can be used for creating a reference DNA library starting with the global hotspots. We highlight studies emphasizing various species reference genomes across tree of life undertaken with DNA Zoo consortium with special emphasis on the role of DNA barcoding as a powerful tool for biodiversity analysis, along with the crucial role of this in conserving and managing WA’s Biodiverse Hotspot in an Evolving World.

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4:15pm - 4:30pm

Dr Bruce Webber: Addressing weed threats to biodiversity: A research program for Western Australia

Abstract

Weeds are currently among the greatest threats to native biological diversity in Australia and a significant cost to agriculture. The prevention of further invasions through weed risk assessment and the management of existing invaders has been the focus of considerable policy, research and management effort. Yet despite this effort, there has been a mismatch between the perceived magnitude of the threat from weeds, relative to the resources invested to adequately address the problems. Western Australia spans considerable variation in ecosystems, with associated variation in the weeds that are or are likely to cause negative impacts to natural ecosystems. The state also has specific biosecurity advantages, relative to other states, which presents both challenges and opportunities from a weed management perspective. Weed spread and impacts span political and land tenure boundaries, meaning that significant gains in management effectiveness in Western Australia could be achieved via cross-tenure and multi-organisation collaboration. Recognising the importance of mitigating weed impacts for the conservation of biodiversity in the state, and the need to address knowledge gaps as a critical component of this desired outcome, WABSI has developed an end-user led research program focusing on this conservation priority. This initiative has engaged with a wide range of stakeholders to identify and prioritise knowledge gaps, and to then develop a strategic research agenda with a clear consensus on the research that needs to be done to close these gaps. Twenty-six themes across seven focal areas have been identified as the highest priority issues for addressing weed threats to biodiversity. This program of prioritised research will encourage complementarity and collaboration, will help to identify the resources and funding required, and will provide clarity on how best to turn research findings into improved on-ground outcomes.

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4:30pm - 5:00pm

Banquet Hall

SER Australasia National Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration Edition 2.2 Launch Promotion

Sponsored by WABSI

Hosted by Dr Renee Young, WABSI

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5:00pm - 6:00pm

The Terrace

Networking and Sundowner

Sponsored by WABSI and SERA

Thursday 16 September 2021

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8:00am - 8:30am

Delegate Registration

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8:30am - 9:00am

Banquet Hall

Plenary 4

Professor Emerita Carmen Lawrence: State of Play

Chaired by Dr Peter Landman, Murdoch University

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9:00am - 9:30am

Banquet Hall

Plenary 5

Dr Adam Cross: Barriers in returning biodiversity to mine tailings in the Western Australian Mid West

Chaired by Dr Peter Landman, Murdoch University

Abstract

The edaphic characteristics of post-mining landforms often represent the most significant limitations to plant establishment and development in post-mining landscapes, and can be a major barrier to mining companies pursuing and achieving rehabilitation closure criteria. Tailings represent particularly challenging landforms to work with, particularly in Western Australia’s Midwest where the Banded Ironstone (BIF) reference systems harbour a biodiverse suite of well-adapted native flora. Topographic and edaphic complexity of BIF in an otherwise relatively homogenous landscape has likely facilitated species accumulation over long time periods, and BIF represent musea of regional floristic biodiversity where only species that cannot establish or are inferior competitors in heavily weathered, acidic and nutrient-impoverished soils are not represented. The physiochemical, hydrological, and microbiological conditions presented by rehabilitation substrates like tailings often differ markedly from pre-disturbance soils, and the physiological implications of these alterations to plant growth are frequently cryptic or completely unknown – tailings are geochemically completely dissimilar from any material native plants have ever been naturally exposed to. Plant strategies represent a major filter in establishing biodiverse, representative vegetation on tailings, and in geologically-ancient regions like the Midwest up to three-quarters of native biodiversity may not be easily returned to rehabilitation areas. If we are to exploit our mineral resources more sustainably, we must develop solutions to accelerate the speed at which rehabilitation can be successfully achieved; presented here are data and outcomes from seven years of multidisciplinary research unpacking and identifying some of the key mechanisms constraining plant and microbial establishment on mine tailings, and examining amelioration and soil engineering solutions aimed at improving the speed, efficacy and economic viability of post-mining rehabilitation and restoration.

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9:30am - 10:00am

Banquet Hall

Plenary 6

Dr Tom Hatton: Accounting and assessing cumulative impacts

Chaired by Dr Peter Landman, Murdoch University

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10:00am - 10:30am

Morning Tea Break

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10:30am - 12:00pm

Session 6: Trends and Conditions

Chaired by Assoc Professor Parwinder Kaur, The University of Western Australia

Club Auditorium

Session 7: Our Biodiversity Assets

Chaired by Dr Lesley Gibson, DBCA

Sponsored by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions

Banquet Hall

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10:30am - 10:45am

Ms Gabrielle Cummins: A review of ocean accounts

Abstract

Social and economic development depend on the sustainable management of natural resources. Bringing ocean ecosystems and natural resources into national economic assessments and planning is critical for human wellbeing and the persistence of natural systems as all parts of the ocean are now impacted by human activities. Ocean Accounts seek to monitor progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 14 to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. My research undertakes a review of ocean accounts, identifying their use and investigating their advantages and disadvantages.

Ocean accounts are a structured compilation of data concerning the marine environment and related economic activity. Ocean accounts aim to incorporate ecosystem services into national economic assessments to inform decision making and ensure natures contributions to human society and wellbeing are captured. Recently interest in developing ocean accounts in Australia has increased with the federal government committing to establish a series of environmental accounts. My research aimed to inform the adoption of ocean accounts in Australia by conducting a global review of existing ocean accounts to identify emergent opportunities and challenges. Existing pilot ocean accounts, at a global level, were compiled and compared. Trends in the types of ecosystem services captured were explored. Spatial scale and data resolution were determined as particularly important attributes affecting ocean accounts. This study will assist Australian policy makers in learning and building from international experience to ensure Australian ocean accounts are fit for purpose. 

Dr Robyn Shaw: A landscape approach to conservation: Supporting resilient mammal communities in the Pilbara

Abstract

The Pilbara region of Western Australia is a biodiversity hotspot, renowned for its high levels of species endemism. This region also has rich mineral reserves and agricultural value, meaning that there are conflicting priorities in the management of this vast landscape. The Pilbara also represents a stronghold for many threatened species that were once widespread across northern Australia. Australia’s mammals are declining at an alarming rate, particularly those in the “Critical Weight Range”, due to compounding threats including feral predators, introduced herbivores, land use change and changing fire regimes. For this reason, there is urgent need to develop conservation management strategies that integrate landscape-scale approaches to threat management, habitat protection and meta-population health across multiple species. In particular, there is a need for decision-making tools that support best practice conservation strategies for building resilient mammal communities in this unique, multi-use landscape.

Our study combines species occurrence records, high resolution genomic data, and spatial environmental data to understand how species utilise and move through the landscape. We focus on 11 small to medium sized mammals (rodents and marsupials), with the goal of identifying key habitat, dispersal corridors, areas that are genetically unique and areas with high/low levels of genetic diversity. Using species distribution modelling, and cutting edge landscape and population genomic approaches, we have created a suite of decision-making tools in the form of multi-species connectivity and habitat maps. Through synthesising multi-species genomic, survey and spatial data, and working with partners spanning government, industry and academia, this project provides a framework for a more holistic approach to conservation that can be applied to management in multi-use landscapes globally.

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10:45am - 11:00am

Dr Lewis Walden: Spatially explicit estimates of brown and blue carbon stocks in Australia’s terrestrial and coastal marine biomes

Abstract

Quantifying soil organic carbon storage across terrestrial and marine ecosystems is critical for determining current and future climate change mitigation potential of Australian soils. Organic carbon stored in soils are important in global climate change mitigation efforts. Current estimates of organic carbon stocks in Australia are derived separately for terrestrial, coastal, and tidal systems. Here, we collated and harmonised measurements of the 0–30 cm soil organic carbon stocks from Australia’s diverse terrestrial and coastal ecosystems and modelled the stocks simultaneously. For the modelling, we used a regression trees algorithm and an exhaustive set of 20 spatially explicit predictors that represent climatic, soil, vegetation, terrain and oceanographic variables. The advantage of the algorithm is that it partitions the data into different regions with similar environmental characteristics, and then derives different local models for each of those partitions. We found that the model grouped regions according to their mean carbon density. For example, forested regions with large mean stocks were grouped, regions in the coastal habitats were separate from terrestrial systems, and the rangelands of inland Australia were also grouped. Native habitats (forests, tidal marshes and mangroves) have the largest mean soil organic carbon density and may be the most vulnerable to carbon loss with climate change and land management. Soils with smaller mean carbon density typically occur in the semi-arid and arid regions of the country and cover much larger extents.Our results suggest the need for the development of regional strategies for climate change mitigation via the protection, conservation, and restoration of terrestrial and marine ecosystems in Australia. The consistently derived estimates of the terrestrial and marine stocks might help to support Australia’s National Carbon Accounting System and guide the formulation of policy around carbon offset schemes.

Dr Linette Umbrello: Conservation genomics of a threatened bat (Rhinonicteris aurantia) in an arid biodiversity hotspot

Abstract

The bat fauna of Australia comprises some 25 % of all terrestrial species, yet we know very little of the demography, dispersal, and movement dynamics of most bat species. The Pilbara leaf-nosed bat (Rhinonicteris aurantia Pilbara form) is a threatened microbat that roosts exclusively in caves that occur in mineral rich deposits in the Pilbara region. Due to their specific roost microclimate requirements bats cannot survive for long without a suitable roost, and are sensitive to roost disturbance. Understanding the connectivity of roosts throughout the Pilbara is crucial for informed decisions to mitigate potential impacts to persistence of this species in areas under development. Along with mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) markers, we used powerful, reduced representation genomic sequencing of over 150 individuals from 8 roost sites throughout the Pilbara and tested for population differentiation associated with the two major subregions – the Hamersley and Chichester. We found evidence of high rates of dispersal and low population structure within the Pilbara, suggesting one panmictic population, with mtDNA results suggesting evidence of female philopatry. Our results corroborate the current understanding of threatened Pilbara leaf-nosed bat biology, that long-distance dispersal events which possibly occur after maturation lead to high rates of gene flow, and that a continuous cave system of suitable roosts is crucial to maintain connectivity and dispersal corridors for a species vulnerable to desiccation.

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11:00am - 11:15am

Dr Michael Burton: What are man-made marine structures worth? Economic case studies from Western Australia

Abstract

This work presents part of a program focused on enhancing the understanding of social and economic values provided to fisheries by man-made marine structures’. We present several case studies on the economic values of objects such as jetties and piers, as well as artificial reefs, including those that arise from rigs-to-reefs programs in Western Australia.

We focus on methods that can identify market values as well as surplus values derived by those who use the structures (i.e. recreational fishers and divers), as well as by the general public in the form of non-use values. Latter includes the effect of social license to operate on peoples’ values.

Moreover, we describe limitations, data needs and the quality of results from a range of different methodological approaches with varying data intensities and complexity. We reflect on the circumstances under which the greater investment to derive higher quality results is justified.

This research will provide important information and guidelines to help quantifying the economic values that marine man-made structures provide for fisheries and other relevant (user) groups. It can therefore aid in making evidence based decisions on the future of such structures.

Mrs Leticia Povh: Mainland quokka use fire exclusions in the presence of prescribed burning

Abstract

Few people realise that there are quokkas (Setonix brachyurus) persisting on the mainland across south-west Western Australia. The small, scattered populations in the northern jarrah forest face many threats, including reduced favoured riparian habitat attributed to decreasing rainfall and stream flow, predation by and competition with introduced species, and wildfire. Wildfire is known to devastate quokka populations, and therefore prescribed burning is an important tool to manage habitat and minimise the potential impact of wildfire. However, the considerations around prescribed burning in and around quokka habitats is becoming more complex with a drying climate, the vulnerability of fragmented populations, and the uncertainties around quokka movements when fire is present.

To better understand quokkas’ use of habitat in relation to fire, we tracked the movement patterns of twenty male quokkas before and after prescribed burns in 2018- 2020 at five sites in the northern jarrah forest. The mean 95% Kernel Density Estimate (KDE) home range size for quokkas was 75.2?± 59.8 SD ha.

Segmentation analysis was carried out to identify changes in habitat use over time. Following the prescribed burns, quokkas inhabiting the unburned fire exclusion areas maintained their range. By contrast, quokkas that had previously resided or visited burned areas shifted away and moved to the exclusion areas, avoiding the burnt areas for average 105 ± 65 days.

This study revealed that quokkas use planned exclusion areas during prescribed burns. This highlights the importance of appropriately sized fire exclusion areas to ensure each population will be effectively preserved. In addition, each fragmented quokka population must be monitored before and after burns to inform exclusion and landscape planning processes to conserve the species.

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11:15am - 11:30am

Dr Fran Ackerman: Stakeholder issues and opportunities associated with man-made marine structures: An exploration of the values influencing the marine biodiversity landscape

Abstract

As awareness of marine biodiversity grows within both scientific communities and the public, there is a need to explore the benefits and disadvantages associated with the infrastructure within that landscape. Though often regarded as an enhancement to biodiversity, man-made marine structures (MMS), such as oil and gas rigs and artificial reefs, continue to raise concerns regarding their impact on the environment.

As part of a research project focusing on ‘Enhancing the understanding of the value provided to fisheries by man-made marine structures’ an investigation was undertaken to explore the issues and opportunities associated with MMS from a wide range of stakeholder perspectives. This aimed to develop a shared understanding of the range of values as well as influence evidence-based policymaking.

The exploration comprised a series of focus group workshops with stakeholders from regional communities, oil and gas companies, regulators, non-governmental organisations, and fishers (recreational and commercial). The workshops focused on identifying issues, opportunities, and associated values along with their impacts on one another to gain a systemic appreciation (through the development of a causal model). Participants were able to contribute directly and anonymously, and for some do so from remote locations. The use of the group support system and the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders represents best practice associated with stakeholder processes and their values.

The workshops provided insights into areas such as a) the levels of heterogeneity/homogeneity between different stakeholder cohorts, and b) which of the issues/opportunities were central/peripheral to the model’s overall structure along with enabling those attending to benefit from the integration and diversity of views being presented and thus enhance their understanding.

Miss Faith Chen: The greater bilbies’ burrowing behaviour in response to different predator threats

Abstract

The greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis), is an ecosystem engineer, as they modify the physical environment and create habitat for other species. Their burrows provide shelter and hunting opportunities for a variety of species including birds, reptiles, mammals, and invertebrates. As ecosystem engineers, they contribute to soil processes that are important in shaping the ecology of Australian ecosystems. Bilbies have experienced severe decline in abundance and distribution (once widespread across 70% of Australia’s mainland, but are now restricted to 20% of their former distribution) and are now listed as Vulnerable. This decline has been driven, in some part, by predation pressure from introduced predators, such as feral cats. Predators not only directly impact prey species by killing and consuming them, but also change the behaviour of prey species, as they respond to the risk of predation. This behavioural shift may affect the fitness of prey species. As such, we investigated the vigilance behaviour of bilbies as they maintain their burrows. We used data from camera traps deployed at 200 burrows, at sites in the West Kimberley, Pilbara, Barna Mia Native Animal Sanctuary, Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary, and Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre to score the investment of bilbies in burrow maintenance, vigilance, and avoidance of predators. The outcomes of this research will increase our understanding of the impacts of feral cats on the behaviour of bilbies as they perform burrow maintenance and will likely inform conservation efforts of the greater bilby.

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11:30am - 11:45am

Dr Julian Clifton: Social values of artificial marine structures: Examples and implications from Western Australia

Abstract

With many offshore oil and gas installations reaching the end of their operating life, the opportunities associated with repurposing these structures as ‘artificial reefs’ are attracting worldwide attention. However, existing research on the social benefits of artificial marine structures is limited to individual sectors and/or structure types. Our focus in this research was to explore how a range of stakeholders value different types of existing artificial marine structures, including jetties, piers and artificial reefs, in order to support future evidence-based policy making.

We conducted a detailed online survey focused on Western Australia exploring individual values and perceptions associated with artificial marine structures based upon the wellbeing framework developed by Weeratunge et al (2014). This enabled an examination of material, subjective and relational values and perceptions at the micro, meso and macro scales.

We use these data to discuss the utility of the social wellbeing framework as a tool to examine the social value of man-made marine structures. We explore the diversity of values and perceptions within and across stakeholder groups and structure types. We conclude with recommendations as to how to facilitate stakeholder involvement in decision-making.

Dr Heidi Nistelberger (presented by Dr Kym Ottewell): Conserving Western Australian boodies (Burrowing Bettongs)

Abstract

Boodies, once widespread across the Australian continent were last observed on the mainland in the 1960s, having succumbed to the pressures of feral foxes, cats, habitat disturbance and changes in fire regimes. Following extinction on the mainland, the species persisted on just three Western Australian offshore islands. Since 1992, boodies from these islands have been transported to various mainland havens – fenced areas subject to predator control – and to several nearby predator-free islands to boost population size and provide insurance against future population loss. There are now seven translocated populations, that together support over 16 000 boodies. In this project, we used reduced representation sequence data (ddRADseq) to provide species-wide genomic data on the current state of boodie populations. In particular, we focussed on the impact that founder source has on patterns of genomic diversity when establishing translocated populations. The results highlight the importance of mixing different island sources as part of the translocation process, with mixed source populations consistently exhibiting higher levels of genetic diversity. We discuss our findings in the broader context of long-term conservation management of boodie populations.

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11:45am - 12:00pm

Speed Talks:

Miss Claudia Sosin: Isolated landscapes: Addressing plastic pollution impacts on biodiversity in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Abstract

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands (CKI) lie roughly 2750 km from the Australian mainland. At a height of only 5 meters above sea level and 14 km2, the islands are one of the most isolated regional Australian communities and have reported some of the highest concentrations of marine borne plastic accumulation in the world. Their central Indian Ocean geographical location, in the path of numerous oceanic currents, exacerbates the impacts that such pollution has on the local biodiversity, particularly on marine and semi – terrestrial life. With CKI’s remoteness making local waste disposal and the transportation of plastics for recycling back to the Australian mainland unfeasible, better policy initiatives must be utilised to support the resilience of the islands’ biodiversity. Although Australia supports a global marine plastic treaty, such an instrument would take time to come into existence and effect. Local governments need to tailor their focus to implement faster measures to address plastic impacts to biodiversity. This paper will identify two potential avenues that could be utilised to help support resilience: policy measures aimed at differentiating local councils from each other to aid in the crafting of appropriate responses, and the tailoring of public expenditure to help support citizen lead initiatives. Whilst law plays a crucial part in environmental initiatives aimed at conservation and management, vulnerable landscapes require tailored local responses to address their normative challenges and biodiversity impacts.

Dr Ru Somaweera: Shady dealings threaten a formidable predator: Can weeds tip the balance in a cryptic trophic cascade

Abstract

The influence of non-native invasive vegetation on carnivores is a topic rarely discussed, especially with regard to large and formidable predators such as crocodylians. Importantly, from a conservation perspective, our understanding of just how vegetation-driven threats impact the viability of populations of these predators remains quite limited, particularly in regard to indirect interactions. In north-western Australia, the introduced weed stinking passionflower (Passiflora foetida) smothers the nesting habitat of the Australian freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni), rapidly overgrowing nests during the egg incubation period. Through a long-term comparative study, we 1) explored how stinking passionflower cover would influence two key temperature-driven demographic parameters: hatching success and primary sex ratio in crocodiles, and 2) investigated feasibility of weed control efforts in relation to timing, technique and extent of control from a perspective of impacts to crocodile conservation. Understanding indirect interactions among species are critical component to predicting the resilience of biodiversity to global environmental change, but they are rarely studied and there are few examples of how interactions can be manipulated to achieve conservation benefits. Our broader study quantified the novel indirect interactions between an apex predator and a non-native invasive weed, which could have utility for predicting downstream effects on food webs and population sizes.

Mr Anthony Desmond: Weeds don’t have to be forever: Eradication of Verbesina from East Wallabi Island

Abstract

Verbesina encelioides (Golden Crown Beard) was accidentally introduced to East Wallabi Island in gravel from the mainland during maintenance of the airstrip. The infestation quickly grew to thousands of plants in the area of the airstrip. The compilation of an eradication plan with detailed work prescriptions and dedicated resources allowed the infestation to be declared eradicated 20 years later. Infestations on North Island and Rat Island were eradicated as part of the program but much earlier due to the small size of the infestations. The presence of an uncontrolled population of Verbesina encelioides on nearby Pigeon Island poses a threat of reintroduction of the weed. The ongoing attempts (in the vicinity of 30 years) to eradicate another invasive weed, African Boxthorn (Lycium ferocissimum), from the Houtman Abrolhos provides a good example of the importance of a resourced plan to achieve eradication.

Miss Kristen Nilsson: Habitat selection by vulnerable golden bandicoots in the arid zone

Abstract

In 2010, vulnerable golden bandicoots (Isoodon auratus) were translocated from Barrow Island, Western Australia, to a predator-free enclosure on the Matuwa Indigenous Protected Area. Golden bandicoots were once widespread throughout a variety of arid and semi-arid habitats of central and northern Australia. Like many small to medium-sized marsupials, the species has severely declined since colonisation and has been reduced to only four remnant natural populations. Between 2010 and 2020 the reintroduced population of golden bandicoots on Matuwa was monitored via capture-mark-recapture data collection which was used in spatially explicit capture-recapture analysis to monitor their abundance over time. In 2014, we used VHF transmitters to examine the home range and habitat selection of 20 golden bandicoots in the enclosure over a six-week period. We used compositional analysis to compare the use of four habitat types. Golden bandicoot abundance in the enclosure slowly increased between 2010 and 2014 and has since plateaued at approximately one quarter of the density observed in the founding population on Barrow Island. The population may have plateaued because some bandicoots escape through the fence. Golden bandicoots used habitats dominated by scattered shrubland over spinifex grass more than expected given the habitat’s availability. Nocturnal foraging range was influenced by sex and trapping location, whereas diurnal refuge habitat was consistent across sex and trapping location. Our work suggests that diurnal refuge habitat may be an important factor for the success of proposed translocations of golden bandicoots.

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12:00pm - 1:00pm

Lunch Break

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1:00pm - 2:30pm

Session 8: Threats and Their Impact

Chaired by Dr Carl Gosper, DBCA

Club Auditorium

Session 9: Restoration and Conservation

Chaired by Dr Anna Hopkins, Edith Cowan University

Banquet Hall

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1:00pm - 1:15pm

Mrs Renata Zelinova: Do local biodiversity strategies work?

Abstract

Over nearly 20 years, Local Governments in Western Australia were encouraged to adopt Local Biodiversity Strategies as mechanism for facilitating biodiversity conservation outside the State’s reserve system. Between 2001 and 2014, the Western Australian Local Government Association through its varied biodiversity programs supported biodiversity conservation efforts by Local Government across the South West of the State. More than forty Local Governments actively participated in these programs which ceased in 2014 due to lack of funding. The talk will examine the role of Local Biodiversity Strategies in the State’s legislative and policy framework for biodiversity conservation, their effectiveness in achieving improvements in biodiversity conservation and highlights the critical features of approaches that have proven to be the most effective. However, there are significant differences in the capacity of Local Governments across the State to address local biodiversity conservation issues, ranging from varied community expectations, resourcing, policy frameworks and levels of threats to biodiversity. The second part of the talk will explore opportunities for reducing barriers to local biodiversity conservation outcomes in urban and regional Local Governments in the South West of Western Australia.

Dr Rujiporn Sun: Non-invasive genetic monitoring using scats reveals spatio-temporal habitat usage of the ghost bat in Pilbara, Western Australia

Abstract

Non-invasive or minimally invasive monitoring methods enable studies of species that are elusive, difficult to trap or otherwise negatively impacted by human disturbance. Previous monitoring programs for the Vulnerable Macroderma gigas (Ghost bat) have included visual counts, passive acoustics, and live capture. Whilst visual and acoustic methods are non-invasive, these methods provide limited individual-level information to obtain estimates of key biological parameters such as survivorship or dispersal. Conversely, while live capture can provide individual information, species detection may be hampered by individual behaviours such as trap avoidance, leading to biased data collection. To improve the monitoring of ghost bats, we have developed a novel ‘molecular tagging’ method for individual identification from faecal samples using custom-designed Single Nucleotide Polymorphism arrays (119 SNPs) on the MassArray system, custom-made mitochondrial DNA marker, and three custom-made sexing markers. Combined with previous data generated from 11 microsatellite markers and mitochondrial DNA, we detected 584 bats from over 3700 faecal samples collected from over 120 caves across the Pilbara region between 2015-2020. Individual genetic patterns demonstrated the spatial and temporal movement patterns of ghost bats amongst roost sites at local- and landscape-scale in the Pilbara. We detected most movements occur among caves within the same area, though a few long-distance flights were observed between caves 25-130 km apart. Bats showed positive genetic relatedness up to ~10 km that declined with geographic distance and both sexes showed similar patterns. At the landscape-level, the genetic data revealed weak genetic structuring of East and West Hamersley from the Chichester sub-region but with similar genetic diversity across regions. Molecular tagging from faecal samples has proven to be a valuable tool in monitoring ghost bats and provided insights into species’ biology.

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1:15pm - 1:30pm

Mr João Filipe: Germination sensitivity of two Mediterranean-type tree species as a vulnerability predictor to global warming

Abstract

Current temperatures are shifting from historic patterns. Climate models predict that the global surface temperature will rise by 1–4 °C on average by the end of the century, and that heatwaves will become more frequent and intense, particularly in Mediterranean type climates. The Southwest Australia Biodiversity Hotspot has extensive forest environments that have been subject to heatwaves-induced forest mortality in recent years. Thus, there is a need to understand how ecosystems might respond to climate change by assessing native tree species’ adaptation associated with increases in temperature. This study assesses seed germination response to temperature in Eucalyptus marginata (jarrah) and Corymbia calophylla (marri) to estimate the thermal optima and constraints among populations from wide ranging climate-origins. Jarrah and marri are endemic to the south-west of Western Australia and are considered foundation species. Seeds from across the entire geographic distribution were collected from 12 independent populations of each species. Patterns of germination observed differences between species on a thermal gradient plate (5-40 oC) and provided a temperature range for explicit germination tests. Germination tests were carried out at 5 constant temperatures between 9 and 33oC. We discuss how the germination niche (1) differs between species, (2) varies among populations, and (3) relates to climatic origin. This study will deliver a scientific basis for the adoption of assisted migration and the establishment of biodiversity management strategies.

Miss Shannon Treloar: Potential for resource competition between the boodie (Bettongia lesueur) and mala (Lagorchestes hirsutus) in the fenced Matuwa reserve, central Western Australia

Abstract

Translocations to closed systems such as fenced reserves can provide significant conservation benefits to threatened fauna species, however they can also bring forth potential threats. Resources are limited in fenced reserves and natural processes that regulate populations, such as dispersal and predation, are unable to occur. Consequently, there is increased potential for interspecific competition because there are less resources available for partitioning and overpopulation is possible. Interspecific competition may lead to the decline or exclusion of the more sensitive species. We investigated the potential for competition between two native marsupials, boodies (Bettongia lesueur) and mala (Lagorchestes hirsutus), that co-exist in a 1100 ha predator-free fenced reserve located in the arid rangelands of central Western Australia. Resource overlap between coexisting populations of these two species has not been studied previously, but the literature suggests the potential for considerable dietary overlap with possible suppression of the more sensitive mala. We investigated the degree of dietary overlap using scat DNA from non-invasively collected scats, as well as the degree of spatial overlap using scat counts and temporal overlap using camera traps. Results suggest limited potential for significant exploitative competition, with both species displaying different foraging preferences and consuming most primary food items in differing volumes. The species displayed no sign of spatial or temporal avoidance, most likely because dietary partitioning exists so there is limited risk from using the same habitats and having similar activity rhythms. This study will contribute to the successful conservation of boodies and mala and will contribute to gaining a better understanding of how translocation success may be affected by the presence of competition, particularly within a closed environment where resources are limited.

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1:30pm - 1:45pm

Mr Richard McLellan: When too much science is never enough: Finding solutions to a wicked problem – the decline of sandalwood in the wild

Abstract

“Early in the industry’s history, fears were expressed as to the possibility of the future exhaustion of supplies of sandalwood … Today, the sandalwood tree is approaching extinction … Little hope of conservation and regeneration remains” – Robertson, J. R. Report to the WA Forests Department (1958).

Government officials and scientists have issued warnings for more than a hundred years that Australian Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) is declining across its range in Western Australia, and is at risk of extinction in the wild due to a range of over-lapping threats. Sandalwood is important culturally, ecologically, and economically, however its fragrant hardwood has resulted in its commercial value far outweighing its other values. 175 years of harvesting from the wild has provided extraordinary economic returns to the WA government and entrepreneurs, with millions of sandalwood trees selectively extracted from natural communities.

Unlike the eastern distribution of the species in South Australia, where it is listed as a ‘Vulnerable’ Threatened Species, sandalwood in Western Australia is considered a ‘forest product’ and is still being commercially harvested in the western and southern rangelands at unsustainable rates of extraction.

Here I present a summary of the science behind the conclusion that sandalwood is going extinct in the wild, and potential solutions to a natural resource exploitation dilemma that has plagued Western Australian conservation and land management decision-makers for more than 100 years.

Miss Kate Rick: Admixing increases genetic diversity with no evidence of outbreeding depression in a threatened bettong (Bettongia lesueur)

Abstract

Translocations have been used as an effective tool to combat the loss of biodiversity by reintroducing locally extinct species and thus aiding in ecosystem restoration. To ensure resilient reintroduced populations, genetic diversity can be maximised by releasing individuals from multiple genetically diverged sources. However, admixing is rarely utilized due to the risks of genetic incompatibility which can result in reduced fitness of hybrid offspring (outbreeding depression). Using reduced representation sequencing (ddRAD-seq) and life history data collected over nine years of monitoring, we investigated the genetic and fitness consequences of admixing two subspecies of Bettongia lesueur in a conservation translocation: ‘Operation Rangeland Restoration’. Using single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) identified from 215 individuals over nine generations, we found an almost 2-fold increase in genetic diversity in the admixed translocated population compared to the source populations. This increase was maintained over time. Despite a similar founder proportion (Barrow Island N = 67, Dryandra N = 87) introduced to the translocated population, Bayesian clustering analysis suggested the translocated population became more genetically similar to the Barrow Island ancestry over time. Survivorship estimates from mark-recapture data were comparable between offspring classes (average 95%, range 92-98%), but the hybrid class had a slightly higher estimate than others (98%, P < 0.01). The recruitment rate varied between classes (average 13%, range 0-20%) with Dryandra founders and Dryandra backcross having the lowest rates, which may have contributed to the translocated population being more genetically similar to the Barrow Island ancestry over time. This study demonstrates that mixing multiple source populations in the reintroduction of threatened species enhances adaptive potential by increasing genetic diversity with no evidence of outbreeding depression.

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1:45pm - 2:00pm

Dr Juliana Pille Arnold: Floral resource energetics in the surrounding landscape drives abundance of bees in woodland remnants

Abstract

Land-use change is a major driver of pollinator declines in fragmented ecosystems, where food limitation resulting from reduction in floral resources is a primary cause for pollinator losses. The persistence of pollinator species is expected to be dependent on both the quantity and quality of foraging resources in remnant habitat and surrounding matrix, however effects of floral resources in the matrix on within-remnant pollinators remain largely unexplored. We tested whether the availability of energy resources from host-plants in the matrix affects the abundance of bee species in remnant woodlands in Southwest Australia, and whether the effect varies with bee body size. We compiled quantitative network interaction data (776 plant-bee interactions, 159 links, 195h sampling effort) to assess host-plant partners of bee species of differing body sizes within 23 remnants of banksia woodland with similar within-remnant habitat structure but a distinct gradient of surrounding land-use types. Host-plant nectar and pollen energy per flower and the availability of flowers were assessed within the native remnants and in the surrounding land-use types to scale up floral resource energy to landscape scales. We found a significant positive relationship of bee species abundance in woodland remnants with an increase in surrounding landscape floral resource energy. Surprisingly, the availability of floral resource energy within the remnants themselves had no significant effect on the abundance of bees. Both small and large-bodied bees responded positively to the increase in floral resource energy in the surrounding matrix, however the effect was greater for larger-bodied bees which have larger energy requirements. These findings suggest severe landscape effects of declining matrix flower resources on the dynamics and persistence of bees in remnant habitat and should help to improve pollinator conservation efforts under future projections of increasing land-use change.

Dr Saul Cowen: Developing faecal monitoring techniques to evaluate translocation success of ‘trap-shy’ mammal species

Abstract

Minimally invasive wildlife monitoring techniques have increased in popularity as researchers seek to reduce their impact on animal welfare and improve monitoring efficacy in large landscapes. Such techniques can also be valuable for monitoring scarce or ‘trap-shy’ species. Banded (Lagostrophus fasciatus) and rufous hare-wallabies (Lagorchestes hirsutus) do not readily enter live-capture traps and are difficult to observe on camera traps. These species do not have individually unique markings, making the identification of individual animals difficult. Faecal DNA monitoring may represent a promising alternative monitoring method for hare-wallabies.

We developed an array of genetic markers (microsatellites) for both species and ran trials to assess rates of DNA degradation in ambient conditions. Results of these trials were used to design a scat monitoring protocol which was tested on Dirk Hartog Island in November 2019, where both hare-wallaby species have been translocated, followed by a full-scale survey in November 2020. The molecular genetics techniques are currently being augmented to include markers with greater discriminatory power (SNPs).

Results indicated that a) hare-wallaby identities can be discriminated using genetic techniques to species and individual levels and b) banded and rufous hare-wallabies segregate in the landscape according to habitat. It is planned that faecal DNA monitoring will be the main method of assessing the ongoing success of these translocations. This technique is also being developed for other translocated species on Dirk Hartog Island, such as Shark Bay bandicoots (Perameles bougainville).

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2:00pm - 2:15pm

Dr Bronwyn Ayre (presented by Dr Siegy Krauss): The impact of introduced honeybees (Apis mellifera) on native plant reproduction

Abstract

The Western Honeybee (Apis mellifera) is native to Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, but has been deliberately spread worldwide for its role in crop pollination and honey production. Consequently, honeybees are now found globally throughout agricultural, urban and natural areas, in wild and managed hives. Honeybees are super-generalists, foraging a vast range of plant species, including those adapted to other pollinator functional groups. Here we present a first global assessment of the realised impact of introduced honeybee foraging on native flowering plant reproduction. Our systematic review of studies on 68 plant species revealed variation in experimental methods, scale, and the parameters measured between experiments, and that nearly half of the species studied were Australian (n=34). Overall, when compared to visits by native pollinators, honeybee foraging had a negative impact on plant reproduction (decreased fruit set, seed set, outcrossing rate or floral larceny) for 33 of 68 species (48%), a positive impact (increased fruit set, seed set, outcrossing rate or pollen deposition) for 28 of 68 species (40%), and no evidence of impact for 12% of species. While introduced honeybees were able to pollinate (fruit production after foraging) 56 of the 68 species (82%), honeybee foraging resulted in lower fruit or seed production in 31 of those 56 species (55%). Locally, pronounced negative impacts have been found for fruit and seed production and outcrossing rates for the bird-pollinated species Banksia menziesii and Anigozanthos manglesii. While recognising positive effects of honeybee visits for half of the species assessed, negative impacts on reproduction for half the species assessed suggests that the broader conservation impact of honeybees may be vastly under-appreciated. Consequently, there is an urgent need for further global assessment into the short- and long-term impacts of introduced honeybee foraging for a diverse range of native plants.

Mr Jim Underwood: Coral, climate, and cultural connections in northwest Australia

Abstract

Coral reefs are declining rapidly due to rising ocean temperatures, acidification, and local human impacts. The degradative effects of climate change on the coral reef ecosystems of tropical Australia are of major concern not only to scientists and government management agencies, but also Traditional Owners. To help slow the degradation, effective management requires understanding the ecological and evolutionary influences on coral reef health. For example, it is fundamental to understand how the distribution of available genetic diversity (DNA variants) will constrain or enable adaptation in reef-building corals for the effective design of networks of Marine Protected Areas. However, Indigenous custodianship knowledge is also key to understanding the long-term changes in coral reef health. Furthermore, Indigenous Rangers are critical to our ability to monitor these changes through time in remote regions of northern Australia. This talk will discuss how decades of research in the northwest has utilised population genetic studies alongside coral reef monitoring to develop coral reef conservation strategies. These studies demonstrate that the physical isolation of the offshore (Scott Reef, Rowley Shoals and Ashmore Reef) and inshore Kimberley reefs means their short-term recovery following disturbances and their longer-term capacity to adapt will be driven from local sources. However, we have also found that the genetic variation underpinning adaptation varies dramatically at local scales, and depends on the configuration of coral ancestry, oceanographic conditions, and disturbance history. This means the health of coral populations of northwest Australia will likely have different trajectories. The implications of this research in context of the co-design of Marine Protected Areas with Traditional Owners will be discussed in specific relation to the recent draft plan of the Buccaneer Marine Park.

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2:15pm - 2:30pm

Speed Talks:

Mr Tom Mansfield: The impact of Phytophthora Dieback on Quenda habitat qualities

Abstract

Digging mammals play critical roles in maintaining ecosystem health, with their bioturbation a key driver of ecosystem processes. Populations have been severely reduced in southwest Western Australia partly due to habitat fragmentation and loss. Loss of digging mammals has a marked impact on the survival and growth of native vegetation and ecosystem productivity. The quenda is one of the few digging mammal species living outside of protected populations in WA, and populations are potentially under threat from habitat degradation and fragmentation. One of the main causes of vegetation loss in southwest WA is the introduced root pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi Rands. Phytophthora cinnamomi’s threatens many endemic plant species and has caused a significant impact on the jarrah forest that grows on the Darling Scarp. In infested areas, vegetation that would be used as protective cover by digging mammals is altered – either lost or replaced by less-susceptible plants less useful as cover. There have been no direct studies on how Phytophthora cinnamomi-induced habitat deterioration impacts quenda. However, similar-sized small mammals can experience restricted movement in response to this degradation and quendas may be similarly impacted.

This PhD is investigating the extent that Phytophthora dieback infestation in the jarrah forest impact quenda. Habitat analysis has shown a significant decrease in available grass tree habitat, and shrub cover. Despite this, plant communities do not show a significant change but instead shift towards one dominated by low-lying plants. Furthermore, grass trees are not entirely removed and persist in lower numbers, potentially providing remnant habitat. Results suggest that quenda experience habitat loss from Phytophthora cinnamomi. However, the size of the pathogen’s impact and the survival of remnant grass trees may influence their use of infested areas. Future studies in this PhD will investigate this.

Dr Wei Xu (presented by Ms Freya Jackson): Helping native bees work for Western Australian growers

Abstract

Western Australia (WA) is internationally recognised as a biological diversity hotspot. We have over 800 native bee species are in WA, which are important not only for endemic plants but also as pollinators of agricultural and horticultural crops. Worldwide, the European honey bee, Apis mellifera, is under threat from multiple factors such as pests (mites, viruses, bacteria, and fungi), queen failure, colony genetics, weather, nutrition, management practice and agrochemical exposure. Consequently, there is increasing interest on other insect species as pollinators of important agricultural and horticultural crops. Our research aims to determine if/which Australian native bees can be used as alternative pollinators to A. mellifera on various crops such as avocado, berry and canola and how these pollinators impact on subsequent crop yields. Once, native bee species have been identified, methods will be developed to increase their numbers and to manage them in orchards. This study will improve our understanding of native bees in Western Australia and help develop more efficient and effective pollination methods to make use of these small organisms.

Dr Stephen Seaton: Drought affected trees attacked by woodborers reveals a diversity of forest invertebrates

Abstract

Disturbance events reveals the diversity in the composition of invertebrate communities in forest landscapes. Attack by longhorned borers (Cerambycidae) of drought stressed trees, provides a substrate for further infestation by other invertebrates. A study was conducted to determine the interdependence of invertebrates associated with borers in native forests.

In jarrah forest of Southwestern Australia, following a severe drought event, stressed Eucalyptus jarrah and marri trees were infested by either longhorned borer Phoracantha semipunctata or Coptocercus rubripes. Emerging borers and other associated insects were captured by surrounding stressed tree trunks with aluminium mesh cages and sorted into taxonomic groups.

A range of insects were associated with borer infestations, with predatory beetles being the most abundant followed by parasitic wasps. The combined richness of predatory beetles and parasitic wasps was slightly higher in marri compared to jarrah, though was similar between trees infested by C. rubripes and P. semipunctata. The braconid wasps and predatory clerid beetles were associated with infestation by both C. rubripes and P. semipunctata borers, whereas ichneumonid wasps occurred where P. semipunctata was present while staphylinid predatory beetles occurred where C. rubripes was present.

There was a diversity of insects in different trophic levels associated with woodborer infestation in forests. Drought stressed forests are a crucial habitat for maintaining biodiversity values of borers, predatory beetles, and parasitic wasps. This study highlights the important contribution of these landscapes in maintaining insect diversity during climate change in Australia.

Miss Emily Hoffmann: Threatened frogs in a drying climate

Abstract

Drier and hotter conditions caused by climate change threaten species that exist close to their physiological limits, as well as those with limited ability to move. The critically endangered white-bellied frog, Geocrinia alba, is restricted to a few square kilometres of habitat in south-west Western Australia. Over half of the known G. alba populations have become extinct in recent decades, surviving populations continue to decline, and past translocation efforts have had mixed success. Here we assess whether thermal and hydric constraints can explain G. alba’s highly restricted and declining distribution. We also evaluate the species’ vulnerability to climate change based on the similarity of current microclimatic conditions to their physiological limits. We found G. alba had low thresholds of thermal and desiccation tolerance relative to other anuran species. Comparing environmental conditions and water loss in the field using agar models showed that riparian habitats where frogs occur provide a unique microclimate in the landscape, offering significantly lower desiccation risk during extreme summer conditions compared to immediately adjacent habitats. Monitoring of microclimate conditions within occupied frog habitats showed that in extreme dry and hot years six of eight sites recorded soil moisture levels that were drier than the frog’s absorption threshold (the soil water potential that allows them to gain water), and half of the sites experienced temperatures that exceeded G. alba’s thermal optimum. Given their specific physiological limits, the apparent rarity of suitable microclimates and a regional drying–warming trend, we suggest that G. alba occupies a potentially disappearing niche and may be indicative of other habitat specialists that rely on ephemeral drainages. These insights will allow us to identify potentially unsuitable translocation sites, and to prioritise sites most likely to support viable populations in a drying climate.

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2:30pm - 3:00pm

Afternoon Tea Break

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3:00pm - 4:30pm

Session 10: Threats and Their Impact

Chaired by Professor Stephen van Leeuwen, Curtin University

Club Auditorium

Session 11: Restoration and Conservation

Chaired by Dr Renee Young, WABSI

Sponsored by Rio Tinto

Banquet Hall

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3:00pm - 3:15pm

Dr Valerie Densmore: OzCBI: The Composite Burn Index adapted to assess burn severity and key fauna habitat features in Australian ecosystems

Abstract

Fire is a natural and recurring feature in many Australian ecosystems, but the magnitude of disturbance affects the post-fire recovery process. Prescribed burning is conducted to minimise the risk that bushfire will damage communities or the natural environment and to implement appropriate fire regimes for ecosystem health. Monitoring and reporting on the outcomes of prescribed burning is often ad hoc, limiting interpretation and use of information beyond the locations where it has been collected. Burn severity mapping has potential to assess the impact of prescribed burns and bushfires, and ongoing technical advances support using remotely sensed imagery to map patterns of burn severity at large scales and field-truthing to provide ecological context. The composite burn index (CBI) was developed in the U.S. to field-truth burn severity and later modified in Spain (GeoCBI) to include fractional cover of vegetation strata. These methods relate reasonably well to spectral indices of burn severity. However, the metrics assessed don’t consider the resprouting response common to Australian eucalypts and have few measures to record the quality of key fauna habitat attributes that remain post-fire. We have adapted the GeoCBI to assess resprouting dynamics and the retention and recovery of habitat that assists fauna. We have evaluated this new version, the OzCBI, in a wide range of Western Australian vegetation types and found it to be a reliable and consistent measure of vegetation change following fire. In this presentation, we will demonstrate the principal methodologies, performance and accessibility as a tool for fire and land managers to assess the impacts of operational decisions and burn objectives and to provide scientists a systematic framework to examine the impacts of fire on species and ecosystems.

Mr Vern Newton: The International Standards for Mine Site Restoration: Towards a culture of best practice

Abstract

Mining is one of the world’s largest contributors to the global economy at $1.37 trillion USD per annum. The International Standards for Mine Site Restoration (the Mining Standards) currently in final draft, aims to provide a unifying set of principles and standards for all mine site restoration projects across the globe with alignment to the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Increasing pressure on companies to maintain their social license to operate has meant that globally the mining industry is lifting their environmental performance. The Mining Standards present a robust framework for delivering high-quality ecological restoration of mine sites. Such a framework enables acceptable and enduring environmental, social, and economic legacies for future generations consistent with many international goals and conventions. This increased awareness and actions to improve performance by the mining industry is, however, by no means universal. The process of change within a mining company to progress towards a culture of environmental best practice can often be a long process requiring ‘company champions’ to work diligently and continuously with management. The International Standards for Mine Site Restoration (the Mining Standards) provides a framework to help companies on that journey, specifically when the post mining land use is ecological restoration. The best outcomes are achieved when trust is established between government (regulators), industry, community and science and leveraging this to go beyond best practice (Fig. 1). It can be difficult to attain and is something that is being grappled with globally, but when it is established, the best net environmental and social benefits can be realized.

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3:15pm - 3:30pm

Dr Josephine Hyde: Monitoring the effect of fire on invertebrate populations in the SW of Western Australia

Abstract

Fire is a natural part of many ecosystems worldwide; however, there is increasing concern about the effects of climate change on the frequency and intensity of bushfires and the implications of this for fire management and biodiversity conservation. There are significant gaps in our knowledge of how altered fire regimes affect some ecosystem components, particularly invertebrates. While invertebrates are critical to ecosystem functioning, there are significant knowledge gaps in both invertebrate diversity and their ecological roles. Only an estimated 30% of invertebrate fauna are described in Australia, and issues of inadequate taxonomy, scarcity of taxonomic expertise and labour-intensive methods hinder their use in ecological monitoring. In recent years, environmental DNA (eDNA) has been identified as a potentially powerful monitoring tool that may overcome some of these difficulties, although barcode sequence availability in reference libraries is still a significant limitation. This study compared the use of pitfall trapping (with species delimitation by morphology and metabarcoding) and eDNA from soil and leaf litter for investigating patterns of invertebrate community composition across sites in the south-western Australian jarrah forest representing a fire chronosequence, ranging from 3 to 87 years since fire. This project aims to give a clearer picture of the long-term effect of fire on invertebrates in SW Western Australia’s jarrah forests by combining both traditionally ecological survey and genetic techniques.

Dr Fiamma Riviera: Longterm recovery of kwongan heath and Banksia woodlands after mining: A regional comparison

Abstract

Regional descriptions of patterns of vegetation recovery after restoration for are limited and yet, are necessary to assess progress, evaluate management practices, and understand underlying ecological processes. Structural- and species-based measures are traditionally used to assess restoration recovery. However, functional trait-based measures provide deeper insight.

We compare the functional vegetation recovery of 4 mine sites in southwest Western Australia: the Iluka mineral sand mine at Eneabba, the Tronox mineral sand mine at Cooljarloo, and the Hanson sand quarries at Gingin and Ellenbrook. These sites span 250km north to south, from kwongan heath at Eneabba to Banksia woodland in Perth. All companies made available data on long-term vegetation recovery from restoration monitoring plots as well as data from reference vegetation.

Trait-based composition for restored plots at all sites becomes more similar to reference vegetation with age. Notably, the pattern of recovery is similar across all sites. Restored areas appear to move through comparable successional phases, irrespective of differences in patterns of other measures of recovery, such as species richness. Restoration practices and environmental variables account for considerable proportions of variance of functional traits collectively but little individually. Functional aspects of vegetation recovery could better inform restoration assessment.

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3:30pm - 3:45pm

Dr Anna Hopkins: Soil fungal responses to the stacked disturbances of hotter drought and wildfire in a Mediterranean-type forest

Abstract

Globally, drought-induced forest dieback and wildfire are garnering increasing concern and prominence. However, little is known about the longer-term responses of Mediterranean-type forests to repeated disturbances of this type and the ability of forests to maintain biodiversity. In particular, below-ground organisms have received less attention, despite their essential contributions to plant growth, survival, recruitment, and ecosystem function. We investigated soil fungal communities in forests affected by a combination of global-change-type drought and wildfire in a Mediterranean climate-type ecosystem in southwestern Australia. Fungal DNA was extracted, amplified and subjected to high throughput sequencing from soils beneath living trees across 16 forest sites affected by factorial combinations of severe drought and wildfire. We quantified how fungal richness, composition and functional groups varied following individual or multiple disturbance events. Disruptions to soil fungal communities, such as altered functional groups, can have serious implications for tree regeneration, recruitment, and more broadly for ecosystem persistence and function, particularly in regions projected to experience multiple disturbance events in the future.

Dr Matthew Daws: Long-term trends in the return of plant species diversity in jarrah forest restored after bauxite mining

Abstract

Much of the remarkable plant species diversity of the South West Australian Floristic Region can be attributed to high diversity of understorey species in its forests and woodlands, including 400-600 understorey species per km2 in the Northern Jarrah Forest alone. Consequently, the return of species diversity is a key component and challenge for ecological restoration in the region. Each year, Alcoa of Australia undertakes restoration of mined areas within the Northern Jarrah Forest with a goal of returning a self-sustaining jarrah forest ecosystem. To meet this goal, it is important to understand the long-term (>20 year) trajectories of developing vegetation and the restoration practices that direct species diversity outcomes. Here, we show a strong legacy effect on understory diversity of using fresh topsoil, compared with stockpiled topsoil, 45-years after salvaged topsoil application. In addition, for this inherently nutrient-deficient environment, we demonstrate that minimising fertiliser inputs maximises plant species diversity, while having no negative impacts on tree growth rates after 20 years. Finally, we demonstrate (1) that species richness in restored sites increases over time, indicating ongoing species colonisation after initial restoration efforts, (2) that species richness is unaffected by the reintroduction of fire to restored sites, and (3) that after 25 years, species richness in restored sites is similar to that in unmined reference sites. Taken together, our research highlights the value of long-term data in improving jarrah forest restoration outcomes. The results may also prove useful in efforts to restore understorey diversity to woodlands and forests elsewhere in the region.

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3:45pm - 4:00pm

Ms Harriet Davie: Managing feral predators and fire to ensure the persistence of wild bilbies at Warralong in the Pilbara

Abstract

The greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis) occurred across much of arid Australia, however, since European colonisation, abundance has declined, and their distribution has contracted towards the northwest where bilbies are now only found in 20% of their former range. The Pilbara Region represents an important area for the continued survival of the most north-western wild populations given the contraction of the species from the remainder of the continent. Predation by feral cats and foxes, large wildfires and the degradation of bilby habitat continue to pose significant threats to the survival of wild bilby populations in the Pilbara. This project is implementing concurrent feral predator and fire management to ensure the persistence of the bilby population at Warralong. Monitoring of the abundance of bilbies and occupancy of feral predators aims to reveal the effects of management and inform adaptive management. This project is a partnership between Industry, Government, NGOs, Traditional Owners, pastoral station managers and the local community.

Dr Pali Jayasekara: Floristic hotspot, cracking clay vegetation in Pilbara: What we know and what we don’t!

Abstract

The cracking clay ecosystems of the Pilbara covers 3.7% of the bioregion and the most extensive areas of cracking clay ecosystems occur on pastoral leases, except for those in Millstream Chichester National Park.

The soils of this ecosystem consist of two distinct horizons: red vertosol, predominantly clay with occasional clay loam, and red Kandosol, which is structureless clay. The cracking clay soils are also known as ‘gilgai,’ ‘crabhole,’ or ‘melon hole’ soils. The unique characteristic feature of this ecosystem is that it is self mulching due to seasonal swelling and shrinkage (Moore 2004).  Most perennial deep-rooted species struggle to persist in this ecosystem because of the heavy texture and self mulching nature of the cracking clays (Fensham 2003).  As a result, perennial grasses (e.g., Astrebla spp., Chrysopogon fallax, Themeda sp. Hamersley Station) ephemerals herbs (e.g., Dolichocarpa sp. Hamersley Station, Streptoglossa sp. Cracking clays) and cryptophytic (perennating bud lies below the ground) species (e.g., Swainsona thompsoniana,  Pimelea holroydii) are the main functional species types on the cracking clays. Therefore, plants growing in cracking clays are often specialists restricted to this habitat. Further, the cracking clay ecosystem shows strong floristic dynamics throughout the year. For example, after summer rain the cracking clays are dominated by herbaceous species, and after winter rain, grass species dominate. For example, Dichanthium prefers winter rain, and in many instances, it is only a small component of the system after summer rains. Even though cracking clay systems are found in most parts of the Pilbara, it is impossible to compare these areas because vegetation assemblage and species richness are different. For example, across 26 sites – in the Hamersley’s subregion average species richness was= 46.38 ± 12.75, ranging from a minimum of 26, to a maximum of 72 (Rio Tinto, unpublished data). 

The uniqueness of this ecosystem and its floristic richness and diversity has resulted in the identification and listing of five Priority Ecological Communities (PEC) and one Threatened Ecological Community under the requirements of the WA Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Unfortunately, our knowledge of the cracking clay ecosystems of the Pilbara is not sufficient to clearly understand and delimit the floristic communities that exist on cracking clays and how to differentiate them reliably. This situation exists because: • not many survey work is being undertaken on cracking clays; – of 8,050 botanical survey sites surveyed in the Pilbara by 2019 only 5.8% were on cracking clays (ME Trudgen pers. comm.). Most of the surveys were carried out in project areas or along infrastructure; corridors with the exception being the Pilbara Rangelands Survey.
• most surveys represent a single sampling session and are thus not adequate to capture the temporal and spatial dynamics of the species composition of the cracking clays; and
• sampling method is questionable.

Cracking clay ecosystems in the Pilbara in particular those dominated with tussock grass (e.g., Astrebla spp.) communities are highly preferred pasture for cattle, and feral herbivores like donkeys, horses and camels. As a result, some areas of cracking clay ecosystems areas subjected to soil erosion with the subsequent altered hydrological regime no longer support perennial tussock grasses. Areas subject to erosion are also susceptible to invasive weed encroachment.

The management and conservation of cracking clay ecosystems in the Pilbara requires a detailed long-term investigation to the better understand species richness, diversity and the dynamic nature of these floristic hotspots. Without such a study this ecosystem will continue to decline, new species and communities will become threatened and the uniqueness of the Pilbara as a nationally listed as a biodiversity will be diminished.

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4:00pm - 4:15pm

Dr Tim Doherty: Predator–fire interactions: Evidence, impacts, solutions

Abstract

Predators and fire can have independent, as well as combined, impacts on native fauna populations. There is a growing view that foxes and feral cats target burnt areas to prey on vulnerable wildlife. But how common is this really? And what can we do to reduce impacts where they occur? In this talk, I will briefly review the evidence for predator–fire interactions in Australia and present new data on predator and prey responses to fire in three Australian ecosystems. I will then discuss the potential role of key management actions (long-term predator control, ‘emergency’ predator control, patchy burns, artificial refuges) before outlining research priorities to advance our understanding of predator-fire interactions.

Mr Jeremy Naaykens: The development and preliminary validation of a biodiversity-based framework for assessing riparian & groundwater dependent ecosystem representation and significance

Abstract

While riparian ecosystems in Northern Australia have received significant study; tools to assess their significance are generally absent. This constrains the ability of industry & regulators to assess the significance of riparian ecosystems and the consequence of impacting them.

This is particularly relevant for increasingly mesic habitats and GDE’s where increasing moisture availability supports increased diversity of fauna, mesophytic taxa and complex vegetation structure. Moreover; within arid water limited regions such as the Pilbara; specific eco-physical settings which support long term stability in moisture availability & groundwater presence are highly restricted and important as refuges & repositories for relictual taxa & genetic diversity.

Distribution observations of riparian plants with increasing habitat specificity to mesophytic/hydrophytic habitats identified a spectrum of species associated with specific regimes within an increasingly wet hydrological gradient. These observations demonstrated that increasingly stable moisture conditions in riparian settings supported increasingly unique vegetation structures and a greater the diversity of mesophytic, hydrophytic, refugial & relictual taxa; in turn representing increasingly rare/restricted ecosystems of increasing conservation significance.

Leveraging distribution observations from riparian surveys, a series of groups of increasingly relevant mesic indicator species were developed for externally draining riparian settings. These species groups were then used to develop a draft biodiversity based riparian & GDE assessment framework for the Pilbara.

A regional remote sensing dataset for the Pilbara has now been used to provide preliminary validation of the relevance of these species to these increasingly restricted and important habitats, in turn providing justification for the relevance of the developed assessment framework for understanding the significance of Pilbara riparian ecosystems.

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4:15pm - 4:30pm

Auditorium

Introduction to BioBarcode and School Program

Hosted by Dr Carina Marshall, The University of Western Australia

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4:30pm - 5:00pm

Auditorium

Student Presentation

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6:00pm - 10:00pm

The Biodiversity Conference Gala Dinner

Friday 17 September 2021

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8:00am - 8:30am

Delegate Registration

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8:30am - 9:00am

Banquet Hall

Plenary 7

Professor Kerrie Wilson: Making better decisions for the environment

Chaired by Professor Stephen van Leeuwen, Curtin University

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9:00am - 9:30am

Banquet Hall

Plenary 8

Professor Matthew Tonts: 50 years of the EPA

Chaired by Professor Stephen van Leeuwen, Curtin University

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9:30am - 10:00am

Banquet Hall

Plenary 9

Professor Owen Nevin and Ms Kerryl Bradshaw: How shared data and analytics can transform environmental assessment

Chaired by Professor Stephen van Leeuwen, Curtin University

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10:00am - 10:30am

Morning Tea

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10:30am - 12:00pm

Session 12: Restoration and Conservation

Chaired by Professor Owen Nevin, WABSI

Club Auditorium

Session 13: Our Biodiverstiy Assets

Chaired by Dr Lesley Gibson, DBCA

Banquet Hall

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10:30am - 10:45am

Dr Blair Parsons: New approaches to driving ecological restoration at scale in Australia’s Great Southern Landscapes

Abstract

The way land is currently used in Australia’s agricultural landscapes is unsustainable and this is affecting our biodiversity, landscape health, agricultural productivity and economic resilience. Further, the collective restoration response to date has been referred to as a “mere cautious fiddling” that is insufficient to prevent ongoing decline and degradation. Recently, the Australian National Outlook has called for re-establishment of trees and habitat at an unprecedented scale (ie. 11 to 20 Mha by 2060) as part of a national vision for a bright and prosperous future.

Aligned with this vision, Greening Australia is implementing an ambitious restoration program across Australia’s Great Southern Landscapes. The program aims to move beyond business-as-usual and match the scale of intervention to that of the problem, but this requires a new approach. For example, carbon markets and regenerative agriculture are seen as a core enabler for this program and delivery of biodiverse restoration at scale. When integrated effectively into a landscape, environmental plantings can realise genuine benefits to multiple assets, providing habitat for biodiversity, providing increased production and returns from agricultural land and reversing land degradation.

Private investment will drive a shift in magnitude of funding for environmental plantings through our agricultural landscapes – transitioning away from traditional government funded programs. Additionally, it will demand new thinking to meet the challenge, related to planning and design, supply chains, on-ground delivery, accounting frameworks, and monitoring and evaluation. During this presentation, we will share new approaches to developing and executing environmental plantings, demonstrating our drive for positive, biodiverse outcomes at scale.

Dr Carl Gosper: Quantifying Banksia decline in Fitzgerald River National Park at plot to landscape scales

Abstract

Western Australia’s climate is changing with the Southwest Australian Floristic Region (SWAFR) becoming warmer and drier. Drought impacts are often highly visible at the site level but poorly understood at the landscape level, limiting our understanding of landscape resilience and impacts on biodiversity and how we respond. Scaling from plot-based field measurements and remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) imagery to satellite imagery provides a pathway for increasing our understanding of how the health of vegetation responds to increased aridity. The Fitzgerald River National Park (FRNP) is among the most important landscapes for conservation in the globally significant SWAFR, supporting a remarkably species-rich and endemic flora. Recent observations within FRNP indicate apparently widespread decline in vegetation health, particularly among iconic and keystone Banksia species. We sampled vegetation health in plots distributed along gradients of geology, soil depth, distance from the coast and elevation to quantify the extent of Banksia mortality and identify correlates of health. Widespread mortality of Banksia within FRNP was recorded, affecting a variety of species, growth forms and mechanisms of persistence through fires. However, the proportion of point intercepts with Banksia species that intersected dead individuals varied across the landscape and ranged from ~5% on subcoastal deep gravelly soils to ~50% on coastal quartzite outcrops. Using measures of vegetation cover derived from RPAS-based photogrammetry, we calibrate satellite imagery to extend measurements of vegetation decline from plot to landscapes scales and track temporal changes putatively associated with extreme dry periods and interactions with canker pathogens. We discuss how our method could be developed to monitor vegetation health more widely.

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10:45am - 11:00am

Mrs Linda Abdo: Who, what, why?: Defining roles and responsibilities improves biodiversity offsets for sustainable development

Abstract

Biodiversity offsets are often required by the Australian Government to support sustainable development, particularly if the impacts of a development cannot be avoided or mitigated. Implementation of offsets is often a complex interplay among developers, regulators and stakeholders, with the roles and responsibilities of these parties poorly defined. This leads to inadequacies and failure of offsets to meet prescribed goals. We analysed 151 case studies, journal articles and legislation and compared the results to our holistic model for offsets to determine which roles and responsibilities should be attributed to each party. Few documents explicitly discussed roles and responsibilities for biodiversity offsets. Most of the information available was found in journal articles and described the roles or responsibilities of regulators and developers, with little mention of stakeholders. While responsibilities for each party should be well defined by environmental legislation, the assignment of roles is much more fluid and may be interchanged amongst parties depending on capability, interest and capacity. The primary responsibility of developers should be to provide a comprehensive background to environmental impact of the development and to propose adequately resourced, reasonable and scientifically robust offsets, including monitoring, key performance indicators and completion criteria. Regulators should ensure adequate legislation that prescribes the design, implementation, auditing and enforcement criteria for offsets. In addition, regulators should develop strategic planning frameworks and facilitate offset markets. Stakeholders should collaborate with developers and regulators to participate in the design, implementation and ongoing monitoring of offsets. By better defining the roles and responsibilities of each party involved, biodiversity offsets can be more efficient, ethical, robust and contribute more meaningfully to sustainable development.

Dr Alison Ritchie: Perth’s globally unique Banksia woodlands, a threatened ecological community in review

Abstract

Urban expansion is a risk to biodiversity at a global scale, with cities all over the world facing challenges of balancing urban growth and conservation. The expansion of the Perth metropolitan area in Western Australia and the conservation of Banksia woodlands that Perth is expanding in is a prime example of this challenge.

In 1989, the Royal Society of Western Australia published a review of the state of knowledge of Banksia woodland ecology and conservation in response to urban expansion that was rapidly depleting and degrading Banksia woodlands.

It took over 25 years (2016) for Banksia woodlands to be listed as a Threatened Ecological Community under Australia’s National environmental law, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, by which time up to 72% of the ecosystem had been lost in the Metropolitan region. Thirty years ago, when the population of Perth was approximately 0.9 million, Banksia woodlands were considered common in the metropolitan area and Swan Coastal Plain. However, by 2018, the population of Perth grew 130% (to > 2 million people).

Andrew Burbidge said in 1989“If Banksia woodlands are to be used for the long term benefit of the people of Western Australia it is clear that strategies will have to be developed and applied to prevent their total destruction or near destruction plus degradation of the remnants”.

Our recent review utilized the framework from the 1989 review and presents scientific advances that have been made over the last thirty years on our understanding of the composition, processes and functions of Banksia woodlands. In this presentation, we identify threats the ecosystem faces at present and into the future, outline what knowledge gaps exist, and identify the key research priorities that remain.

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11:00am - 11:15am

Dr Ram Pandit: Valuating species for ecosystem accounts in the Gunbower-Koondrook-Perricoota Forest Icon Site

Abstract

Incorporating values of biodiversity – species and ecosystems – into national accounts is getting traction through the United Nations System of Environmental Economics Accounting – Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA – EA) process. Species and ecosystems have a range of values, including existence values. There are questions around the utility of  non-market valuation techniques to estimate values that are to be used  in ecosystem accounts. Currently, the SEEA – EA process do not recognise the values derived from non-market valuation techniques that estimate welfare values instead of exchange values.  This raises important questions around how to accommodate the indirect and existence values that people have over biodiversity or ecosystem assets in the ecosystem accounts.

In this study, we have estimated the willingness to pay of the Australian public for improvements in the habitat condition index of three dominant species (Wallaby grass, River red gum and Black box) commonly found in Gunbower-Koondrook-Perricoota Forest Icon site. The WTP estimates derived from a choice experiment survey of 1303 people suggest that sample respondents are willing to pay $2.45, $3.21, and $1.47 per year for 20 years, respectively, for one percentage point improvement in the habitat condition index of these species in 20 years’ time. Using the values derived and applying some extrapolation and discounting, we show how it is possible to use such estimates to derive exchange values, which could then be used in the ecosystem accounts of the site. We think that this process could offer an avenue to incorporate important values society has on species or ecosystem assets into the evolving practice of ecosystem accounting.

Dr Robert Davis: Birds in Banksia woodlands show resilience to current fire regimes

Abstract

The banksia woodlands of the Swan Coastal Plain of Western Australia are a threatened ecological community comprised of fire-adapted proteaceous vegetation. Previous research has shown a deficit of long unburnt vegetation and a surplus of vegetation with a fire interval of 1-7 years. In order to inform fire management practices in Banksia woodlands, it is important to understand the responses of a range of taxa to fire intervals. We investigated bird responses to fire intervals ranging from 1-26 years since last fire, in a continuous Banksia woodland north of Perth. We found that the bird fauna was resilient to recent past fire regimes with no significant responses by feeding guilds and only two individual species. These two species, Yellow-rumped Thornbills and Scarlet Robins, showed a preference for the open habitats of recently burnt and long unburnt sites but there was no strong preference for long unburnt habitats by any species. The fire regime imposed under current practices is unlikely to have any negative consequences for the birds of Banksia woodlands.

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11:15am - 11:30am

A/Professor Rachel Standish: Carbon outcomes of biodiverse woodland restoration

Abstract

There is increasing interest in carbon farming for climate-change mitigation. Biologically diverse carbon plantings offer additional benefits through provision of natural capital and ecosystem services. Yet, it is assumed that monoculture plantings will sequester more carbon than diverse plantings. In 2008 we established a long-term experiment to test this assumption. On an old paddock in the great southern region of Western Australia, we planted native tree and shrubs in mixes of increasing species and functional richness. The trees and shrubs were representative of the yate woodland that was cleared from the site for livestock grazing. In 2019, ten years after planting, we measured growth of trees and shrubs, harvested leaf litter to estimate biomass and sampled soils. We used linear mixed models and all subsets selection to determine which of 12 variables explained carbon stored as aboveground live woody biomass. We found no effect of observed plant species or functional richness on carbon stored. Rather, biomass was best explained in models that included tree density, shrub density, soil potassium and soil organic carbon. Increasing tree density was associated with increasing biomass whereas shrub density had the opposite effect on biomass. Unplanted control plots had not been recruited by native woody species ten years on. Leaf litter biomass was best explained by soil pH and potassium. For soils, we found organic carbon decreased with restoration age, and a legacy of P-fertiliser evident in 2008 had diminished by 2019. Total soil nitrogen also diminished with age. Our data suggest biodiverse carbon plantings store at least as much carbon as monocultures, but higher shrub densities could weakly reduce carbon sequestration. The carbon farming industry can help achieve conservation goals by planting diverse mixes of woody native species instead of monocultures.

Ms Eloise Ashton: The critical role of birds to the pollination of Banksia menziesii

Abstract

Background and Aims. Plant mating is profoundly impacted by pollinator morphology and behaviour. Pollinators are predicted to minimise energetic costs during foraging by visiting nearby flowers. However, compared to other pollinators (insects, non-flying mammals), nectarivorous sunbirds and honeyeaters display limited grooming, inter- and intraspecies aggression and high mobility. This suggests that plants pollinated by these birds will display higher levels of paternal diversity and outcrossing than those pollinated by insects and non-flying mammals.

Methods. To test these predictions, a pollinator access experiment was conducted on Banksia menziesii, a dominant canopy tree of Banksia Woodland on the Swan Coastal Plain that is known to be pollinated by birds, mammals and insects. Treatments were applied as follows; 1. plants open to all pollinators, 2. invertebrate access, exclusion of vertebrates, 3. honey possum access, excluding invertebrates and birds, and, 4. complete pollinator exclusion. The consequences of treatments were compared for the reproductive output of maternal plants, including fruit and seed production, seed and seedling vigour. The genetic consequences for offspring were assessed by genetic diversity and rates of outcrossing using microsatellite markers to genotype individuals.

Key Results. Treatments excluding birds resulted in reduced measures of fruit per cone by 80%, percent of viable seed per cone by 62%, seed per fruit by 59% and seed mass by 25%. Estimates of outcrossing were similarly reduced when birds were excluded by 30-40% and observed heterozygosity by 22%. Consequently, self-compatibility was observed for the first time for B. menziesii, as it was previously considered self-incompatible. Findings suggest birds play critical role in pollination of B. menziesii, excluding them reduces fitness and thus important to its conservation.

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11:30am - 11:45am

Mrs Louise Tarrier: Valuing what we care for: Nature based accounting for a restoration economy

Abstract

Using data from its recent CarbonCare™ project that seeks to boost community understanding of carbon farming, with particular regard to biodiverse native planting, this presentation will put forward key recommendations for the future valuation of co-benefits within a Western Australian context. It will highlight methodologies and suitable valuation methods as well as calculations for a specific Northern Wheatbelt site. The need for focus on restoration in the Western Australian Wheatbelt is imperative as over 90% of the Northern Wheatbelt has been cleared for agricultural planting since the 1920s. The valuation of the entire project (13,000+ hectares) was extrapolated by assessing an area planted by Carbon Positive Australia called Hill View.

It is believed that Environmental and Social benefits are something that investors will pay a “premium” for when investing in carbon projects. In the Western Australian Wheatbelt, the development of intensive agricultural land-use systems has profoundly changed the landscape. Natural vegetation was cleared and converted to agricultural land and only small patches of natural habitat remain. Planting and reforestation projects that restore the natural landscape, and that bring biodiversity and social, economic benefits, are of interest to a wide range of stakeholders.

The presentation will review the importance of valuing biodiversity and how already developed methodologies can underpin future baseline studies and valuation models.

This data study was supported by Lotterywest, and the desk top review of data was undertaken by Point Advisory, supported by Carbon Neutral Pty Ltd.

Dr Mark Briskey: Routine activity (theory) approaches to conserving and managing WA’s biodiversity: Preventing environmental crime and enhanced Biosecurity

Abstract

In Criminology Routine activity theory is an aspect of crime opportunity theory that analyses contributory and disparate factors as to why crime occurs. The role of opportunity as well as the role of those persons who manage or are guardians of targets of crime is a particular focus. The theory was developed by Marcus Felson and Lawrence E. Cohen initially to explain crime rate changes in the United States. The Routine activity theory is often explained in conjunction with a problem analysis triangle that explores what factors are necessary for a crime to occur. The Routine activity theory approach is useful for addressing a broad array of criminal justice problems including threats to bio-diversity and environmental crime. This paper proposes the introduction of solutions drawing on the routine activity approach to more effectively conserve and manage WA’s biodiversity hotspots and the environment more generally from crime and harm. By drawing on the theory and use of the problem analysis triangle the paper suggests novel approaches towards the stewardship of the environment as well as addressing issues as diverse as overfishing, marine pollution, water theft and protection of native flora and fauna. A number of examples of the Routine Activity approach to managing WA biodiversity hotspots are provided.

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11:45am - 12:00pm

Mrs Monica Hunter: Private land conservation: Its importance for WA’s biodiversity

Abstract

The National Trust of WA (NTWA) is one of three statutory authorities in WA which can enter into permanent, legal restrictive covenant agreements with landholders for the protection of native remnant bushland on private land in perpetuity. 178 restrictive covenants have been registered by NTWA since 1970, protecting over 17,000 hectares of bushland, much of which include poorly reserved/under-represented vegetation community types and havens for threatened species.

The contribution of private land conservation to the protection of biodiversity is invaluable and is acknowledged not only in Australia but internationally. In 2007, the Australian Federal Government Report ‘Conserving Australia: Australia’s national parks, conservation reserves and marine protected areas’, stated in Chapter 11 that “Private land owners and managers are increasingly playing a role in nature protection and conservation. While over 10 per cent of Australia’s landscape is made up of national parks, reserves and other protected areas, private land owners can effectively increase this percentage by also engaging in and contributing to conservation measures on land under their control and ownership.” The Australian Land Conservation Alliance 2018 Report ‘Improving the knowledge and uptake of private land conservation in Australia’ highlights the importance of private land for protecting biodiversity which “has led to the IUCN’s increased recognition of the contribution of Privately Protected Areas (PPAs) to international conservation efforts (Stolton et al. 2014; Bingham et al. 2017). PPAs now form an important component of Australia’s conservation efforts.” (p.6)

The NTWA will showcase its Natural Heritage Conservation Covenant Program, its history and challenges and how it links to the Conference Themes of: Conserving and managing WA’s Biodiverse Hotspot in an Evolving World; Applying Value to Our Landscapes; Bringing Biodiversity Back and Connecting Landscapes.

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12:00pm - 1:00pm

Lunch Break

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1:00pm - 2:30pm

Session 14: Restoration and Conservation

Chaired by Assoc Professor Dylan Korczynskyj, Notre Dame University of Australia

Club Auditorium

Session 15: Trends and Conditions

Chaired by Dr Rob Davis, Edith Cowan University

Banquet Hall

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1:00pm - 1:15pm

Dr Renee Young: Towards net zero and the role for restoration

Abstract

To reach ‘Net Zero’ Australia needs to embrace a cohort of interconnected strategies that work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure that any ongoing emissions are balanced by removals. This strategy encompasses high-quality, energy-efficient buildings; flexible zero-carbon mobility; zero-emissions circular goods; abundant clean energy; and sustainable natural ecosystems. Within sustainable natural systems we need to look at healthier diets and less food waste; regenerative agriculture and restored soil health; protected biodiversity; reforestation and carbon sinks providing carbon offset for agriculture, and limited bioenergy supply primarily from waste and residues. It is well established that large-scale, successful, carbon-rich, ecosystem restoration in both terrestrial and marine environments will be key in achieving these goals.

Rates of sequestration achievable through the biodiverse restoration of terrestrial and marine ecosystems in Australia vary in terms of carbon storage capacity, stability of the carbon once stored and certainty in the data and models available. The urgency of the current situation, however, requires action on the ground now. So, what do we know about carbon sequestration in Australian environments? and how do we balance the need for knowledge with the risk of action or inaction?

In this paper, we look at the role of restoration in Australia’s response to a Net Zero target. We provide a high-level summary of current research, knowledge gaps, opportunities and priority areas for ecological restoration as a basis for informing a restoration strategy for Western Australia.

Dr Natasha Pauli: Architecture of the understorey: How residents’ actions influence the habitat value of street verges

Abstract

Perth lies within a global biodiversity hotspot, harbouring over 2,000 species of native plants and around 200 species of native bees. Growing numbers of local residents are installing native gardens on the street verge (public land) adjacent to their home. This form of ‘civic greening’ is now largely permitted by Perth metropolitan local councils, marking a significant shift in social norms. There is little information available on the potential social and ecological benefits and challenges associated with this practice. Understanding what shapes the plant diversity and potential faunal habitat value of the street verge is crucial to help ensure that as verge gardening expands, the best policies are in place for promoting biodiversity. We interviewed verge gardeners from 22 households to understand their motivations and sources of inspiration. Concurrently, we conducted plant surveys, and observations of pollinating insects. We identified 265 unique plant species, of which 41% were native to the Swan Coastal Plain, and a further 28% had a geographic distribution from elsewhere in Western Australia. Most verge gardeners were motivated to reduce resource use, or improve the visual appeal of the verge. Gardeners’ plant selection was partly influenced by a desire to attract wildlife, although few had extensive knowledge of native plants and local ecology. Observations of flowering plants between October 2019 and March 2020 showed that at least eight species of native bees were visiting verge gardens, including gardens that had been planted within the previous 12 months. We developed a multi-criteria analysis for scoring the potential for verges to support native bees, based on plant species and abundance, tree species and maturity, ground cover type and other variables. This scoring system could be used to help local residents increase the habitat potential of their verge gardens for insect pollinators, as well as promote the use of locally endemic plant species.

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1:15pm - 1:30pm

Ms Tina Parkhurst: Can tree planting on old-fields benefit biodiversity outcomes?

Abstract

Biodiversity loss and land degradation due to agricultural land use continue to occur across the globe. At the same time, some agricultural areas are faced with a reduction in productivity of the land resulting in large-scale abandonment of arable fields. Ecological restoration of these old fields has the potential to bring back parts of the lost biodiversity and ecosystem functions. However, evidence for this is scant, in particular we lack an understanding on how invertebrate communities respond to ecological restoration measures in agricultural landscapes.

Here we tested the effects of active ecological restoration (e.g. tree planting) on species richness and abundance and functional groups of ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Using a space for time approach we surveyed eight study sites in a semi-arid agricultural landscape, with each site comprising a fallow cropland, indicating the restoration starting point, a 10-year-old planted old field, and a woodland reference plot, representing the desired end state. Sampling in planted old fields and woodland reference plots was further stratified into open patches and areas under tree canopies to capture the resource patchiness of the ecosystem. We hypothesised that ant assemblages in the planted old fields would be converging towards the reference woodland system due to increasing habitat resources and complexity, but would not reach reference woodland conditions.

Results show that overall ant species richness and abundance patterns are not distinctly different between restoration treatments, however, significant differences are apparent at a genera and functional group level.

Our study indicates that ecological restoration of old fields has positive effects on ant assemblages by providing more complex habitat resources. However, as hypothesised full convergence to the reference woodland was not achieved, possibly owing to the relatively young age of the restoration planting.

Mrs Danielle Matthews: Planning for urban biodiversity conservation in Perth WA

Abstract

As a greater proportion of the world’s population become residents of cities, more attention is being given to the impacts of urbanisation on natural areas. Perth is a unique capital city, situated in an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot, and a lot of land identified for new housing is still covered with original vegetation. To better understand how the city is evolving, it is important that we examine the history of planning and policy in response to biodiversity conservation. Opportunities are identified to improve conservation outcomes in urban areas, with specific examples provided from the WA Local Government Association’s biodiversity program.

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1:30pm - 1:45pm

Dr Eddie van Etten: Condition and revegetation of salinized valley floors in the northern Wheatbelt, including responses of fauna

Abstract

The scourge of dryland salinity continues to affect over one million hectares of the wheatbelt of southwest Australia, with at least another 1.8 million hectares at risk of salinity impacts over coming decades, primarily along drainage lines and valley floors. This has severely reduced the agricultural potential of these valley floors, as well as degrading the few remaining patches of native vegetation. An important part of the solution to dryland salinity is revegetation, and a few options have been tried on salinized valley floors, particularly planting of saltbushes (Atriplex spp.) which can be grazed by sheep at certain times of the year. In this paper we will report on the preliminary results of a multi-year study of valley floor ecosystems in the Yarra Yarra catchment located between Dalwallinu and Perenjori in the northern wheatbelt region. We compared the vegetation structure, floristics, ant diversity and composition, as well as reptile, small mammal and bird species, between good-reasonable condition remnant york gum woodlands, degraded woodlands and areas revegetated with saltbush and other species at replicated sites in valley floors across the catchment. As expected, highest richness of native species (birds, plants, small ground fauna and ants) were found in the less-degraded remnants, and were lowest in saltbush and other revegetation, which corresponded to patterns in the structural complexity of the vegetation and amount of accumulated woody debris and leaf litter. The implications of our findings for the ongoing restoration of salinized valley floors to achieve multiple benefits will be discussed.

Dr Grey Coupland: Can Miyawaki forests be the hero for increasing urban biodiversity and engagement of citizen scientists?

Abstract

Globally, biodiversity is increasingly under threat, with action required at the national level to mitigate the crisis. However, at the local level, citizens often feel powerless to act. This is where planting of Miyawaki forests has become an increasingly popular choice for non-government organisations, community groups and local councils. The Miyawaki methodology is attractive because these forests are perceived to be small scale projects that can be carried out by citizen scientists, and have considerable environmental benefits. This rationale stems from reports of Miyawaki forests exhibiting high growth rates and biodiversity: forests have been reported to grow up to ten times faster and contain up to 100 times the biodiversity of forests planted using traditional reforesting techniques. As such, these tiny forests punch above their tiny size in terms of their ability to become the hero for engaging the community in environmental action, as well as creation of biodiversity hotspots and more liveable urban environments. To test how well these forests can be planted and monitored by citizen scientists, a Miyawaki forest has been planted by children at a local Perth primary school under the guidance of a researcher. Children will monitor the forest as citizen scientists over the next ten years, gathering data on plant growth, animal and plant biodiversity and forest temperature regimes. The researcher will investigate soil biodiversity using eDNA, microbial activity and soil nutrients. There is a paucity of data available on the biological performance of Miyawaki forests. As such, the project will provide valuable information to decision makers, enabling more informed decisions on whether the more prescriptive Miyawaki method is the most suitable use of resources relative to environmental outcomes for urban revegetation programmes, and help us determine if these tiny forests really can be a big hero for community led environmental action.

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1:45pm - 2:00pm

Dr Lucy Commander: Best Practice Guidelines: Supporting translocation of threatened species, germplasm conservation and seed collection & use

Abstract

Developing best practice guidelines can make a positive difference in conservation and restoration. Best practice guidelines can, and should, involve authors from all sectors including those working in the field and in laboratories as well as those involved in planning, implementation and legislation. Guidelines can provide two-way knowledge transfer between science and practice, by summarising and presenting the latest research in plain English, as well as providing practical information and sharing practitioner case studies.

The Australian Network for Plant Conservation has recently updated three best practice guidelines: Guidelines for the Translocation of Threatened Plants in Australia (3rd ed), the FloraBank Guidelines – best practice guidelines for native seed collection and use (2nd ed) and Plant Germplasm Conservation in Australia – strategies and guidelines for developing, managing and utilising ex situ collections.

These three publications have involved well over 100 authors, reviewers and case study contributors. Each publication is unique, providing guidance on threatened species, native seeds for restoration, and ex situ conservation, but also complimentary, cross referencing between publications to point to further information. By reading all three, policy makers, researchers and practitioners can gain further understanding of three inter-related components of plant conservation and restoration.

In this presentation, both the process of updating each publication will be outlined, as well the content. Thus, we will demonstrate the importance of best practice guidelines, and how they can bring people from government, non-government, not for profit, research commercial, consulting and volunteer organisations together, Also, we will communicate an overview of the latest research and practice on plant translocation, germplasm conservation, and native seed collection and use.

Dr Holly Kirk: Spatial modelling and biodiversity sensitive urban design

Abstract

Cities with nature are better for people, and supporting cities with nature helps to conserve biodiversity. Governments have limited funds for biodiversity action in cities, therefore we need to prioritise areas where our actions will have the biggest impact. One way to do this is to focus attention on places that have the greatest potential to improve ecological connectivity for urban wildlife. All animals need to move around the landscape, but cities are a complex matrix of habitat, non-habitat and barriers to movement. Ecological connectivity theory can help to prioritise where new resources should be placed, and existing habitat protected to facilitate movement between patches.

We used ecological connectivity modelling to compare the potential biodiversity benefits of different planning scenarios at a large urban redevelopment in central Melbourne, Victoria. These findings were translated into a set of Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design (BSUD) recommendations designed to maximise onsite outcomes for a range of native species, including restoring wetland ecosystems.

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2:00pm - 2:15pm

Dr Megan Barnes: Prioritising translocations for effective conservation of a highly threatened flora

Abstract

The Southwest Australian Floristic Region is globally renowned for its plant diversity, but substantial and pervasive threats have contributed to >400 plant taxa being recognised as Threatened. The management and recovery of so many threatened species is a major challenge. Translocations, the intentional transfer of nursery propagated plants to establish self-sustaining populations, is increasingly used in the recovery of the most imperilled species. Given the number of species at risk of extinction, wise allocation of resources is critical for ensuring the most benefit be delivered across all taxa. We developed a decision process for identifying when a translocation is likely to be a beneficial recovery action for species, prioritising them based on cost-effectiveness. We applied the process to Critically Endangered and Endangered plant taxa in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia. The ecological benefits in terms of the expected increase in populations and probability of persistence together with the cost of recovery actions were elicited to derive decision support metrics including cost-effectiveness and derive a ranked list of priority taxa for translocation. As part of the process, we developed a cost model which provides a means for conservation managers to rapidly undertake a cost-benefit analysis for multiple threatened species within their jurisdiction and budget.

Dr Nihara Gunawardene: The value of small urban bushlands and the importance of documenting and preserving biodiversity in the suburbs

Abstract

There has been a global recognition of the social and biodiversity value of green spaces in urban settings. In particular, green spaces that contain higher amounts of remnant vegetation have been shown to support a greater diversity of plants and animals than was once appreciated. As these remnants are under threat by development or disturbance at all times, it is contingent on the local government to protect remnant vegetation to the best of their ability. Here, we provide an example of how a local government, through the help of the local “Friends of” group, has put effort into quantifying the biodiversity of their local remnant. We show that both vertebrate and invertebrate diversity can be easily quantified through regular field survey and citizen participation. This in turn can lead to better long-term management and early intervention in the case of changes to the environment.

The 9 ha Banksia / Jarrah bushland remnant that is known as Kensington or Jirdarup Bushland in the Town of Victoria Park is a Bush Forever site. In the last few years, reptile and bird species have been identified and monitored using a variety of methods. More recently, invertebrate surveys have also been conducted in the bushland to identify pollinator insects and short-range endemic (SRE) invertebrates. We present the results of the pollinator survey and demonstrate how even small bushland remnants can provide an island or a lake of biodiversity for surrounding urban landuse.

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2:15pm - 2:30pm

Dr Colleen Sims: Restoring biodiversity: A multi-faceted approach to a multi-species fauna reconstruction on Dirk Hartog Island

Abstract

The restoration of fauna to locations where they have become locally extinct is a popular trend in biodiversity conservation. However, land managers are now increasingly considering these reintroductions in the context of the restoration of ecosystem function and fauna assemblages, as well as individual species conservation.

The Dirk Hartog Island National Park Ecological Restoration Project aims to achieve the re-establishment of the island’s former fauna assemblage. While seeking to establish new viable populations of a range of species to contribute to their conservation, the project’s overarching goal is to restore the island’s ecosystems to a similar condition to their pre-European state.

In all facets of the restoration process, we have sought to incorporate best-practice science, in the process improving our knowledge of a range of threatened species and developing novel tools for monitoring ecosystem restoration and the recently established fauna populations. Here we summarise the progress of the restoration program to date and the research that is being carried out to inform it.

Dr Natalie Warburton: Ancient animals reveal unexpected environments

Abstract

Climatic changes through the Cenozoic (<66 million years) have had a profound influence over the composition and structure of terrestrial ecosystems. Overlaying this are more recent changes to the environment through the movement and resource use by humans over the last 60 thousand years. Interpretations of biodiversity of historical environments relies on a complex interplay between the disciplines of geology, chemistry, zoology and botany. As a zoologist, I am interested in ecomorphology – the relationship between animal’s morphology (structure) and how this relates to its behaviour within its environment. Fossils of extinct megafauna from the Nullarbor Caves, including a diverse assemblage of kangaroos and wallabies, has led to intriguing and unexpected clues about the past environment from this area. Most notably, at least three new species of extinct tree-climbing kangaroo forms. Given the relatively tree-less habitat of the Nullarbor in the current time, these relatively recent fossils, perhaps as young as 45 thousand years old, give us important information about the past diversity of animals and the complex nature of changes in environment that influence biodiversity through time and space. In this presentation I will describe some of the exciting extinct kangaroo fossils we have identified from the Thylacoleo fossil caves on the western Nullarbor and their implications for making inferences about past environments and biodiversity.

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2:30pm - 3:00pm

Afternoon Tea

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3:00pm - 4:30pm

Session 16: Restoration and Conservation

Chaired by Dr Eddie van Etten, Edith Cowan University

Club Auditorium

Session 17: Our Biodiversity Assets

Chaired by Professor Trish Fleming, Murdoch University

Banquet Hall

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3:00pm - 3:15pm

Ms Leonie Monks: Improving plant translocation success: Case studies from two decades of research informing management practice

Abstract

Threatened species translocations, the intentional transfer of nursery propagated plants to a new location, are increasingly being used to enhance plant numbers at small and declining populations, reintroduce plants to extinct populations or to establish populations in new safe locations. Ultimately the goal is to establish self-sustaining populations and the species being reranked at a lower conservation listing. If translocations are to be effective in species recovery, then previous plant translocations must be examined closely, and the lessons learnt used to inform future management practices and increase the likelihood of success. In Western Australia, the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions has used translocations as an integral part of its plant species recovery program, with translocations for 65 threatened plant species being established at 110 sites over the past two decades. Techniques such as watering and the use of fences to protect plants from herbivory have been implemented as an experimental component of translocations and their influence assessed on establishment, growth, and reproduction, along with the interaction with rainfall. Using an adaptive management approach, the knowledge and experiences gained in early translocations have been used to improve the success of later attempts. In recent years, the focus of research has shifted to better understand ecological and genetic factors that influence population persistence and resilience. In particular, factors such as the effect of fire on population establishment and recruitment, the management of genetic diversity and patterns of pollination and mating in the new populations have been investigated. This talk will describe recent advances in the plant translocations underway in Western Australia and use case studies to highlight how information gained during the two decades of translocation implementation has been used to inform management practice.

Dr Andrew Knight: The science and practice of learning from success and failure in conservation

Abstract

The landscapes of Western Australia comprise complex and dynamic social-ecological systems. In this context, conservation science, policy and management cannot consistently guarantee successful conservation initiatives. Learning from successes and failures is therefore essential for ensuring effective, cost-efficient and equitable strategies to secure resilient landscapes that benefit people and biodiversity. We present a synthesis of our recent research into conservation and other sectors, examining how to learn from failure and success. A rich and extensive body of research from the business, healthcare and commercial and military aviation sectors has focused on developing, testing, reporting and learning from the failure of human activities. Despite this, the understanding and adoption of mindsets and mechanisms for identifying, analysing and learning from failure in conservation is rare. We present an assessment of the causes and extent of failure in the conservation sector, demonstrating that failure is under-reported, and hence forfeits the readily accessible opportunities for learning to improve our activities. We offer an operational model comprising a suite of pragmatic mindsets and mechanisms synthesised from these other sectors that can be systematically trialled and refined by conservation practitioners, donors, policy-makers, researchers and the teams they work in. This systematic process capacitates people and organisations to grapple with the fear of failure, realise the full value of their failure experiences, and to guide team learning on how to identify, analyse and correct and institutionalise the lessons these failure experiences provide.

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3:15pm - 3:30pm

Dr Melinda Pickup: Seeding resilience: Restoration in a rapidly changing world

Abstract

As restoration ecologists and practitioners, we are on the forefront of managing Australia’s biodiversity under scenarios of rapid environmental change. When undertaking restoration a key goal is ensuring that restored populations have the genetic diversity and adaptive capacity to survive in current and future environments. But this leads to the question: how do we ensure that restored populations have the adaptive capacity to survive in current and future environments? In this talk we will discuss how applying evolutionary thinking into restoration can help achieve the goal of establishing and conserving resilient populations and ecological communities. We will outline and discuss Greening Australia’s approach to climate resilient revegetation that includes: (i) establishing Climate Future Plots, (ii) strategic seed sourcing for climate adaptation, and (iii) assessing the suitability of ecological renovation approaches in restoration. By combining practical approaches with the best available science, we aim to implement novel strategies for seed sourcing and into our on-ground restoration works. We will also discuss the challenges of these approaches and the need for monitoring and evaluation to assess the success of climate-targeted approaches – both now and in the future. Together, these strategies aim to implement science-based approaches to maximise ecological resilience in a rapidly changing world.

Prof Andy Austin (presented by Dr Mark Harvey): The Western Australian stygofauna: A globally significant diversity of groundwater invertebrates

Abstract

Virtually unknown less than 25 years ago, sampling of groundwater across Western Australia in the last two decades has revealed a huge diversity of aquatic invertebrates belonging to various crustacean groups (amphipods, isopods, bathynellaceans, copepods, ostracods, remipedes), coleopterans (water beetles) and a number of minor groups. This fauna has been recovered primarily from aquifers in the Yilgarn and Pilbara regions, and largely associated with environmental monitoring and assessment procedures associated with resource developments. Significantly, over the last 20 years every species collected from these aquifers has been described as new. The immense diversity of animals in these regions has resulted in them being referred to as global hotspots, with only approximated 10% of an estimated 2,500 species so far being formally named. Like the terrestrial invertebrate fauna, the stygofauna comprises ancient Pangean and Gondwanan lineages, as well as a groups that have evolved in response to post-Miocene aridification. The reasons for these subterranean species’ explosions are complex, but a key factor is the separation of groundwater habitats which has resulted in isolated aquifers having a unique suite of species, often representing ultra-short-range endemic taxa. Here we present an overview of what is known about the diversity of Western Australian stygofauna, the gaps in current knowledge, how it is being used as a natural laboratory to test biogeographical and evolutionary hypotheses, and how new technologies can help in accelerating information on this unique fauna.

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3:30pm - 3:45pm

Mr Michael Just: Seed dormancy limits biodiverse restoration: An investigation of a notoriously intractable plant family, the Rutaceae

Abstract

Seed based restoration is one of the most effective practices for restoring ecosystem function to degraded sites. The current capabilities of restoration to meet biodiversity targets is limited by numerous families displaying complex seed dormancy alleviation requirements. Approximately 45 plant families within Western Australia are known to produce seeds that possess intractable dormancy. To maximise biodiverse restoration outcomes dormancy alleviation treatments are required for a wider range of species known to be difficult-to-germinate. Where methods for the alleviation of seed dormancy are unavailable species tend to be excluded from restoration, creating species bias in restored sites and skewing species composition towards those that are easily returned rather than what best reflects the reference ecosystem. To increase the capability of restoration projects a better understanding of intractable seed dormancy mechanisms is required. This study investigated in situ soil conditions to determine dormancy alleviation techniques in a notoriously intractable plant family in Western Australia, the Rutaceae.

Dr Giulia Perina: Bathynellacea (Crustacea): A diverse subterranean group in Australian aquifers. What we know and what we need for conservation

Abstract

In Australia, particularly in the arid zones of Western Australia, a rich hypogean assemblage has been discovered in the past few decades, largely due to surveys required as part of environmental impact assessments for, and imposed conditions on, mining operations. The abundance of material routinely collected by different companies has revealed a huge biodiversity that must be explored using an integrative approach. The crustacean families, Bathynellidae and Parabathynellidae (Bathynellacea) are an integral component of the stygofaunal (subterranean organisms living in groundwater) community, but to-date they are poorly understood due to their conservative morphology and small size which makes their dissection, observation and study extremely difficult. Parabathynellidae are better known in Australia with 50 species described, while Bathynellidae are more neglected with only five species named. Preliminary molecular phylogenies of the Bathynellacea, that include part of the data generated from previous researchers and consultants, show over 90 undescribed putative taxa. All species described and discovered so far appear restricted to single aquifer systems and catchments. Further, there appear to be differences between the hyporheic/phreatic and the deeper aquifer bathynellacean fauna.

Here we present the diversity and patterns of distribution of Bathynellacea in Australia, focusing on the arid zones of Western Australia. Combining taxonomic, molecular, hydrogeological information, will permit a better understanding of the biodiversity and distribution of this taxon group. Such knowledge will help to predict the potential diversity in unstudied areas, and enable improved advice to government regulators where protection of subterranean environments and their aquifers is a priority.

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3:45pm - 4:00pm

Ms Ebony Cowan: Soil seedbank dynamics following smoke treatment in a restoration chronosequence

Abstract

Ecological resilience is widely acknowledged as a vital attribute of successful restoration, with a key component of this being the ability of a restored system to recover following ‘natural-type’ disturbances (i.e. disturbances typically experienced by intact analogue systems). However, despite being crucial for overall restoration success and ecosystem persistence, resilience in restored systems is rarely measured, potentially due to difficulty in defining metrics for its assessment. I used tents to apply smoke treatment in nine banksia woodland restoration sites aged 3 to 26 years to assess smoke responsive soil seedbank dynamics. Because many banksia woodlands species store their seeds in the soil and are cued for germination by smoke, I used smoke to assess resilience to fire within this fire-prone ecosystem. Across most ages, there was a significantly higher density of germinants in the smoke treated plots, compared to control plots, with differing responses among plant trait groups (e.g. – native status, longevity, smoke responsive status). Annuals dominated in younger ages, while perennials were more common in the middle-aged and older sites. Species richness generally increased with smoke treatments, with native perennial species richness showing the largest increase, and invasive richness increasing slightly across most ages. Community-level ordination metrics revealed similarity within control and treatment plots across most ages, but not between smoke and control treatments. These findings are important in understanding below ground soil seedbank dynamics in restored ecosystems and inform restoration planning. Because fire is the dominant disturbance type in this ecosystem, in situ seeds are integral to resilience. Thus, quantification of this resilience attribute can predict a restored sites’ resilience to fire.

Ms Helen Ensikat: Western Australia’s Biodiversity Information Office

Abstract

The Biodiversity Information Office (BIO) has been established as a custodian and manager of biodiversity data collected and used by the Western Australian community. BIO will mobilise biodiversity data from all environment-related sectors, including government, industry, and community organisations, promoting a culture of collaboration and data sharing across government, industry, research and the community.

BIO is developing a Biodiversity Data Repository (BDR-WA) for data submission, curation, and delivery of biodiversity data. Initial data capture will focus on the Index of Biodiversity Surveys for Assessments and expand to capture to capture data from a range of sources held by government and the community. BDR-WA will provide ongoing access to biodiversity data to support evidence-based policy, supporting public confidence in government decision-making.

The BDR-WA will capture data through web portals and data services. Quality control will be undertaken against published data standards, in addition to spatial validation, verification of scientific identifications and names, and reviews of data completeness. Scientific names and references will be maintained as they change over time. Users may access the data via a web portal or data services to meet their visualisation and analytical requirements. Sensitive data will be protected where required, including threatened species data and Indigenous cultural data.

The BDR-WA is being co-designed to integrate with the Commonwealth Biodiversity Data Repository and is a core part of the State’s digital transformation initiative, delivering data for digital transformation of the environmental assessment and approvals system (Environment Online). These initiatives will deliver environmental outcomes by increasing transparency and understanding of biodiversity data. They will also deliver outcomes to industry through red tape reduction, streamlined approvals and access to public biodiversity datasets.

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4:00pm - 4:30pm

Banquet Hall

Official Conference Close

Professor Simon McKirdy: Closing Address by Conference Chair

 

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Please note the conference program is subject to change. Continue to check back for the latest updates.

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