Tag Archives: Queensland

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).

The dinosaur bird

Karen Hunt

Image may contain: grass, outdoor and nature

Oh North Queensland, how good it was to see you again.

A short break to refresh the soul, only a week so not many chances to scope out the birdlife.

But Mission Beach delivered – my first sighting of a Southern Cassowary in the wild.

I’d only seen them in captivity before and its always a bit of a gamble to see them doing their stuff at any particular time, on any particular day – even in Mission Beach where sightings are quite common.

But my nearest and dearest suggested a cruise around some back streets and there one was, crossing a road in the distance, the silhouette immediately recognisable from the signs on every street corner.

A tiny window to grab a photo or three and he/she was gone, up a curving driveway and out of sight, but not, I think, out of mind for a very long time.

They’re pretty impressive birds, not as tall as an emu, but bulky, with a I’m-a-gentle-giant-until-you-push-me-too-far type attitude. Their blue necks and red wattles are brighter than I imagined and this one had a curiously divided casque – not sure what that was all about – but those huge toes are impressive even from a distance. This is a Jurassic Park kind of bird; you can see the dinosaur genes in every considered step.

And tough you’d think. But not tough enough to avoid the dogs which take young ones every year. Or cars cruising the roads cutting through their forest homes and which they have to traverse, at their own peril.

Allen Sheather who works with conservation organisation Rainforest Rescue, says three adult cassowaries have been killed in the last three months in the Mission Beach area, another in the Daintree, possibly by people like us who were driving around hoping to spot one. With no accurate data to judge populations, its sadly ironic that the rarity of a cassowary invites its most likely killers.

Ironic too that the tropics which give rise to the rain forest, can also rip it apart, threatening the birds with starvation. Cyclones rip the forest apart, denuding trees of the fruit the cassowaries need to survive.

But somehow, the dinosaur bird hangs on.

Searches in the wake of Cyclone Trevor in the Iron Range rain forest of Cape York, far north of Mission Beach, have found traces of birds, footprints and scats of at least 4 individual birds. And Allen Sheather says the efforts of many conservation groups in protecting both birds and habitat has meant that overall, cassowary numbers remain reasonably stable.

Probably.

I hope the one I saw survives and breeds and lives on in the eternal twilight of the Australian rain forest. I hope one day I can take my Canadian-born grandchildren to Mission Beach and see a dinosaur bird strolling by, haughtily ignoring the gawkers. I hope those worthy souls who battle to save the cassowaries and the rain forest don’t lose hope.

Because without support from government and individuals, without the effort and will to preserve the national estate in all its glorious forms, without people leashing their dogs and taking care when they drive, hope is all we’ve got.