Tag Archives: habitat

Native birds in south eastern Australia worst affected by habitat loss

An Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis). More than 60 per cent of the birds of south-east mainland Australia have lost more than half of their natural habitat. Credit: Graham Winterflood.

New research has found that habitat loss is a major concern for hundreds of Australian bird species, and south eastern Australia has been the worst affected. The Threatened Species Recovery Hub study, featuring University of Queensland scientists, found that half of all native bird species have each lost almost two-thirds of their natural habitat across Victoria, parts of South Australia and New South Wales.

Lead researcher, Dr Jeremy Simmonds, said the team looked at both threatened and non-threatened birds, including common species.

“While more attention is usually paid to threatened species, common species, like many of our familiar fairy-wrens, pigeons and honeyeaters, are crucially important,” Dr Simmonds said. “Common species play a vital role in controlling insect pests and pollination and their decline through loss of habitat has implications for the health of ecosystems. Along with feral and invasive species, habitat destruction is among the greatest threats facing biodiversity in Australia, so it is important to understand how big the problem of habitat removal is: our research developed a method to do this, called the Loss Index. 

“We looked at how the amount of habitat available for each of Australia’s 447 different land bird species had changed since 1750. In places like Queensland’s south-east and the Wet Tropics, each hectare of forest cleared can affect up to 180 different native bird species. 

“Habitat loss has been particularly devastating for birds from south-east Australia; more than half of the 262 native birds in this region only have a small fraction of their natural habitat remaining in this part of the country. Northern Australia and Australia’s arid zone have had the least habitat loss, as there has been much less vegetation clearing across that region. We also looked at different bird groups and found that Australia’s parrot species are more impacted by habitat loss, compared with birds of prey, like eagles and owls.”

Dr Simmonds said the index provided a tool for conservation managers and planners to better understand how habitat loss affects all birds, and not just the endangered ones.  

 “It helps to show that every hectare of native vegetation that is removed chips away at remaining habitat for dozens and sometimes hundreds of species, including common species which typically do not receive conservation attention,” he said. The quality of the remaining habitat is often reduced, due to weeds, grazing and changed fire patterns, such as more and hotter fires, and this can further reduce the number and type of birds that an area can support.“

The Loss Index can also be applied to other species like mammals or plants.

The research was conducted by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program, a national initiative to undertake science to help save Australia’s threatened species.

It was published in Conservation Biology (DOI: 10.1111/cobi.13331).

ARTIFICIAL TREES CAPTURE NEW BIRD SPECIES ON CANDID CAMERA

The Australian National University, Canberra

An experiment from The Australian National University (ANU) using artificial trees has attracted birds and other wildlife never before seen in a damaged Canberra landscape – catching them on camera at the same time.   

The experiment is a collaboration with the ACT Parks and Conservation Service and uses a series of power poles and translocated dead trees erected in landscape under regeneration.

The ANU researchers saw a four-fold increase in bird species on five recently erected power-poles. There was also a seven-fold increase in bird species across five re-purposed dead trees.

In a separate project on the same site, the birds were captured on motion-sensitive cameras hidden in the artificial structures, with the footage providing a public database for species activity.

Associate Professor Philip Gibbons from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society wanted to test whether artificial structures could be used to provide a home for birds and other wildlife when mature trees were cut down for residential and other development.

He says the artificial trees work better than he “could have ever hoped for”.

“Even if we plant new trees elsewhere to replace those we knock down they take a century to mature and develop suitable habitats for birds and wildlife,” Associate Professor Gibbons said.

“Globally, mature trees are in decline and we’re going to see an absence of mature trees in some landscapes by the end of this century. So these artificial structures are really key to filling that gap to preserve the ecosystem.

“And from what we can see they work. Not only did they attract birds to the landscape, but they also provided a home for ladybirds, wood spiders and microbats.”

Associate Professor Gibbons said the artificial trees weren’t a “cure-all”.

“The structures can only do so much and we found 37 per cent of bird species that live in mature forests did not venture into the artificial structures,” he said.

“We need to preserve as many mature trees as we can, continue to plant more new seedlings for the future and then raise these artificial structures if we are to mitigate this deficit of mature trees for future generations.

“At the end of the day, you can’t beat real trees. But they can take years to grow. So this is a great option in areas needing regeneration or while you wait for trees to mature.”    

The study area, a 50-hectare site at Barrer Hill in the Molonglo Valley, has been set aside for regeneration to offset mature trees and other native vegetation cleared for new suburbs.

The final piece of the restoration project was a “living art sculpture” created from a 400-year old yellow box tree cut down in a nearby suburb and re-erected in the offset site.

Dr Mitchell Whitelaw from the ANU School of Art worked with American architect Joyce Hwang from University of Buffalo and Darren Le Roux of ACT Parks to install motion-sensitive cameras into the tree-sculpture.

They’ve captured images of more than 23 bird and animal species using the structures including a peregrine falcon, nankeen kestrel and tawny frogmouth.

More common species such as crimson and eastern rosellas, starlings, yellow-tailed black cockatoos, galahs, red wattlebirds, willie wagtails, red-rumped parrots, kookaburras, bats and marsupials are also using the structures.  

See Dr Whitelaw’s database of pictures and videos on the Molongolo Life website.

People can watch and contribute to the content by tagging and identifying species.

“As well as some delightful and beautiful images, we’ve caught footage of a currawong raiding a starling’s nest. This is the sort of action in nature people just don’t get to see every day,” Dr Whitelaw said.

“The database is a real-time record of the restoration of an ecosystem. We want people to feel connected to these public places and the wildlife in them.”