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What Role Does Ecological Research Play in Managing Biodiversity in Protected Areas? Australia’s Oldest National Park as a Case Study

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Abstract

How we manage National Parks (protected areas or reserves) for their biodiversity is an issue of current debate. At the centre of this issue is the role of ecological research and its ability to guide reserve management. One may assume that ecological science has sufficient theory and empirical evidence to offer a prescription of how reserves should be managed. I use Royal National Park (Royal NP) as a case study to examine how ecological science should be used to inform biodiversity conservation. Ecological research relating to reserve management can be: i) of generic application to reserve management, ii) specific to the reserve in which it is conducted, and iii) conducted elsewhere but be of relevance due to the circumstances (e. g. species) of another reserve. I outline how such research can be used to inform management actions within Royal NP. I also highlight three big challenges for biodiversity management in Royal NP: i) habitat connectivity, ii) habitat degradation and iii) fire management. A key issue for local managers is finding a mechanism to enable their management to be informed by ecological research in their Park in an ongoing way and to be able to encourage further research. If resolved, Royal NP could provide a model to be used by other protected areas.

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At dusk on the 20 March 2012 bird watcher David Koffel observed a large gliding possum glide between trees at the southern end of Lady Carrington Drive in Royal National Park. David reported his observation to the Royal National Park Visitors Centre and a spotlighting excursion was organised to investigate the sighting. On the 30 March 2012 David Koffel, Debbie Andrew and Glen Harvey located the glider and confirmed its identity as a greater glider Petauroides volans. This was the first confirmed observation of a greater glider in Royal National Park since the wildfire of 1994, 18 years prior, which burnt more than 90% of Royal National Park and 50% of neighbouring Garawarra State Conservation Area. An account of the sightings and background to the observations are provided.
Article
The Green and Golden Bell Frog Litoria aurea is recognized in New South Wales and nationally as a species in a serious decline. We surveyed its current distribution and abundance in the Illawarra region on New South Wales in order to devise a regional conservation plan for this species, based on the objective of establishing at least three isolated, viable populations. The survey was conducted during 1997-1999 across 18 sites based on historic and current records of the species, and habitat suitability. Bell frogs were detected at eight sites, four of which were on public land. The maximum number of adult frogs varied from 11 to 78 across seven sites in Port Kembla, suggesting a population of >100 adult frogs. Breeding was poor at most sites during this study but a moderate number (ca 50) of juvenile frogs was observed at the BHP Steelworks site in January 1998 and at Coomaditchy Lagoon in February 1999. Bell frogs were recorded previously at Shellharbour, where a large population occurred, and at Bulli. These areas are proposed as the other regional sites for bell frog conservation because they are well isolated (>10 km away) from Port Kembla. A small number of bell frogs was present at Bulli, while none was found at Shellharbour. The apparent stability of bell frogs in the Port Kembla area suggests that the presence of multiple breeding sites within a relatively small area (2.5 km radius) is very important and the establishment of viable populations in other areas should consider this situation as a model. This will require the creation of additional breeding sites at Bulli and Shellharbour, and may require translocation to Shellharbour if no occupied sites are found in the next few years. The presence of predatory fish at nine sites demonstrates the need for the conservation strategy to include activities that improve the quality of the habitat currently available to bell frogs.
Article
Humans continue to have a negative impact on wildlife and habitat within protected areas. Anthropogenic disturbance to rock habitat within Royal National Park in southern Sydney is reducing the availability of vital retreat sites used by the endangered broad-headed snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides). One approach that may reduce this disturbance is to educate Park users about the broad-headed snake and the threats to its habitat. We conducted questionnaire surveys of Park users during 2010 to determine their level of awareness of this snake, and to assess whether educating Park users about the snake may assist in its conservation. Only 14% of 181 respondents knew this snake occurred within Royal National Park. Some respondents (6%) had observed people tampering with rock habitats, while 85% of respondents believed that people would be more likely to report such activities if aware of its impact on the broad-headed snake. A majority (53%) of respondents believed rock disturbance would not continue if people were informed of its impact. These results suggest that conservation of the broad-headed snake in Royal National Park would benefi t if Park users were better informed.
Article
The centre of Sydney ornithology 50 years ago was the Ornithological section of the Royal Zoological Society that met monthly (originally on Friday, then Thursday, nights) jointly with the New South Wales Section of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union. The meeting place was the 6th floor of Bull's Chambers, 28 Martin Place. We were the most active of the half a dozen Sections, that included Aviculture, Conchology, Entomology, etc.
Article
This study examined the coarse- and fine-scale habitat preferences of the long-nosed potoroo (Potorous tridactylus) in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, in order to inform the management of this threatened species. Live-trapping was conducted in autumn and spring, from 2005 to 2008, at two sites. Macrohabitat preferences were examined by comparing trap success with numerous habitat attributes at each trap site. In spring 2007 and autumn 2008, microhabitat use was also examined, using the spool-and-line technique and forage digging assessments. While potoroos were trapped in a wide range of macrohabitats, they displayed some preference for greater canopy and shrub cover, and ground cover with lower floristic diversity. While most individuals also displayed preferences for various microhabitat attributes, no clear trends were evident across all individuals. Potoroos displayed some foraging preference for microhabitats with higher shrub cover densities and more open ground cover. Despite extensive fox predation risks, individual potoroos did not all preferentially utilise dense ground cover. Future management of known and potential potoroo habitat should aim to provide effective introduced predator control and enhance the diversity of vegetation attributes while avoiding practices that simplify the habitat.
Article
Dietary samples from four Sooty Owl Tyto tenebricosa roost-sites within one territory in the Royal National Park, Sydney, New South Wales, were collected in December 2005. A total of 144 dietary items was identified, representing eight mammal species and at least one bird species. The samples were compared with those collected during a study 10 years earlier (in 1994-96) that included samples from the same roost-sites. Ten years later, the diet of the Sooty Owl in this territory appears little changed, except that the Sugar Glider Petaurus breviceps is now taken more frequently. The Common Ringtail Possum Pseudocheirus peregrinus continued to be the principal prey species taken by the Owls at this location. The Long-nosed Bandicoot Perameles nasuta may have declined in the Sooty Owl's diet during this period, but this trend was not significant statistically. This study showed that Sooty Owl diet at a single location is relatively stable, despite the occurrence of a major disturbance to habitat caused by a severe wildfire 12 years previously.
Article
The Green and Golden Bell Frog Litoria aurea has undergone a dramatic population decline in New South Wales. During this time the species' status in this state has changed from being common in the 1960s to endangered in 1992. To assess the present population numbers and environmental pressures, 31 sites within the Greater Sydney region and 61 sites from regional areas of New South Wales were surveyed. The sites consisted of previously known but no longer used localities prior to 1990, as well as more recently discovered localities. Since 1990, only 38 localities have been recorded for Green and Golden Bell Frogs, 19 of these are in the Greater Sydney region. Since the 1960s Green and Golden Bell Frogs have disappeared completely from all highland areas above 250 m a.s.l. Coastal populations have been reduced in number and are more isolated from other extant populations. Many of the extant sites are new sites (post 1990) for this species and occur in highly disturbed environments. The ecological niche of this species is discussed in the light of new observations on these frogs. The introduction of Mosquito Fish Gambusia holbrooki may be one of the factors limiting the recovery of Green and Golden Bell Frog populations in New South Wales.
Article
This paper employs a branch of island biogeography theory to analyse and predict the extinction of species of large mammals in 19 nature reserves in East Africa. The assumptions of the analysis include (1) the dynamics of faunal collapse in East Africa will not be significantly different from the dynamics of extinction of large mammals on the islands of the Sunda Shelf, and (2) the absence of either destructive or supportive human intervention (benign neglect). The results may serve as a baseline against which conservationists can discuss various management approaches. We conclude that the pace of extinctions is inversely related to the size of the reserve, but that even the largest reserves would lose most of their large species in a few centuries.
Article
Large fires coincident with drought occurred in south-eastern Australia during 2001-2007. Perceptions of large, intense fires as being ecologically 'disastrous' are common. These are summarised by four hypotheses characterising large fires as: (i) homogenous in extent and intensity; (ii) causing large-scale extinction due to perceived lack of survival and regeneration capacity among biota; (iii) degrading due to erosion and related edaphic effects; (iv) unnatural, as a consequence of contemporary land management. These hypotheses are examined using available evidence and shown to inadequately account for effects of large fires on biodiversity. Large fires do not burn homogeneously, though they may produce intensely burnt patches and areas. The bulk of biota are resilient through a variety of in situ persistence mechanisms that are reinforced by landscape factors. Severe erosive episodes following fire tend to be local and uncertain rather than global and inevitable. Redistribution of soil and nutrients may reinforce habitat variation in some cases. Signals of fire are highly variable over prehistoric and historic eras, and, in some cases, contemporary and pre-European signal levels are equivalent. The most important effects of large fires in these diverse ecological communities and landscapes stem from their recurrence rate. Adaptive management of fire regimes rather than fire events is required, based on an understanding of risks posed by particular regimes to biota.
Article
The link between 'fire mosaics' and persistence of animal species is part of a prominent ecological/land management paradigm. This paradigm deals largely with the effects of fire on animals on the basis of individual events. The universality of the paradigm can be questioned on a variety of grounds, a major deficiency being the inability to deal with quantitative effects of recurrent fire (the fire regime). A conceptual model of fire-related habitat elements is proposed for exploration of a continuum of species/habitat/landscape/fire regime combinations. This approach predicts that the dependence of species on fire-mediated habitat heterogeneity will be highly variable and strongly context-dependent. A spatially explicit simulation model was used to examine the persistence of malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) in a specific landscape/habitat context where dependence on fire-mosaics should be high. Results suggest that persistence of L. ocellata populations will be dependent on intervention using small patchy fires but that there is an optimum rate of intervention. Results were sensitive to spatial pattern of prescribed fire, landscape type (topography) and probability of wildfire. Underlying effects of the fire-interval distribution (the 'invisible' mosaic) on plant species and habitat account for these results. A management emphasis on species/landscape context and awareness of the 'invisible' mosaic is advocated.
Article
A system of natural reserves, each surrounded by altered habitat, resembles a system of islands from the point of view of species restricted to natural habitats. Recent advances in island biogeography may provide a detailed basis for understanding what to expect of such a system of reserves. The main conclusions are as follows:The number of species that a reserve can hold at equilibrium is a function of its area and its isolation. Larger reserves, and reserves located close to other reserves, can hold more species.If most of the area of a habitat is destroyed, and a fraction of the area is saved as a reserve, the reserve will initially contain more species than it can hold at equilibrium. The excess will gradually go extinct. The smaller the reserve, the higher will be the extinction rates. Estimates of these extinction rates for bird and mammal species have recently become available in a few cases.Different species require different minimum areas to have a reasonable chance of survival.Some geometric design principles are suggested in order to optimise the function of reserves in saving species.
Article
The distribution of native, chaparral-requiring bird species was determined for 37 isolated fragments of canyon habitat ranging in size from 0.4 to 104 hectares in coastal, urban San Diego County, California The area of chaparral habitat and canyon age (time since isolation of the habitat fragment) explains most of the variation in the number of chaparral-requiring bird species. In addition, the distribution of native predators may influence species number. There is statistical evidence that coyotes control the populations of smaller predators such as foxes and domestic cats. The absence of coyotes may lead to higher levels of predation by a process of mesopredator release. The distance of canyons from other patches of chaparral habitat does not add significantly to the explained variance in chaparral-requiring species number–probably because of the virtual inability of most chaparral-requiring species to disperse through developed areas and nonscrub habitats. These results and other lines of evidence suggest that chaparral-requiring birds in isolated canyons have very high rates of extinction, in part because of their low vagility. The best predictors of vulnerability of the individual species are their abundances (densities) in undisturbed habitat and their body sizes; together these two variables account for 95 percent of the variation in canyon occupancy. A hypothesis is proposed to account for the similarity between the steep slopes of species-area curves for chaparral-requiring birds and the slopes for some forest birds on small islands or in habitat fragments. The provision of corridors appears to be the most effective design and planning feature for preventing the elimination of chaparral-requiring species in a fragmented landscape.
Article
The Eastern Bristlebird Dasyornis brachypterus inhabits a wide range of vegetation communities including rainforest, eucalypt forest, woodland, mallee, shrubland, swamp, heathland and sedgeland. At Barren Grounds, East ern Bristlebirds mostly occurred in habitat with the characteristic layers of ground cover (less than or equal to 0.25 m), low cover (0.25-1.0 m) and tall shrub cover (greater than or equal to 1 m). Using the point-frequency method, the ground cover measure averaged 91% and consisted of herbs, coral ferns and litter; the low cover averaged 92% and consisted of a tangle of herbs, coral ferns, litter and/or small shrubs; and the: tall shrub cover averaged 74% and consisted of larger shrubs but also included mallee and tree cover. At Barren Grounds, in 1992 and 1995, respectively, the density of Eastern Bristlebirds in old fire-age habitat (9-15 years) was 2.5-times and 5-times the density in young fire-age habitat (three years). In the recently burnt areas, Eastern Bristlebirds generally avoided regenerating low vegetation in favour of unburnt clumps, rapidly regenerating malice or shrubs, particularly Mclaleuca squarrosa in wet areas, and patchily burnt areas some of which were associated with escarpment edges. In old fire-age habitat at Barren Grounds-Budderoo. Jervis Bay and Nadgee, Eastern Bristlebirds breed and occur at relatively high densities. Fire has been implicated in the local extinction of numerous Eastern Bristlebird populations. However, the two populations which are currently the largest, Barren Grounds-Budderoo and Jervis Bay, are characterised by a three decade recent history of relatively small-area burns and long periods between fires ol er much of the available habitat. The Eastern Bristlebird is a cover-dependent and fire-sensitive species. Areas of known Eastern Bristlebird habitat and adjacent potential habitat should be managed to enhance the growth of dense low vegetation and to exclude fire.
Article
The response of terrestrial mammals and arboreal marsupials to past burning history as well as a year prior to, and then for 4 years after, a major wildfire in 2003 at Booderee National Park, Jervis Bay Territory was quantified. The present study encompassed extensive repeated surveys at a set of 109 replicated sites stratified by vegetation type and fire history. It was found that most species exhibited significant differences in presence and abundance between major vegetation types. Detections of long-nosed bandicoot (Perameles nasuta) increased significantly in all vegetation types surveyed, in both burnt and unburnt areas. Temporal patterns in captures of three species of small mammals (bush rat (Rattus fuscipes), swamp rat (Rattus lutreolus) and brown antechinus (Antechinus stuartii)) showed a trend for lower numbers of captures on burnt sites compared with unburnt sites. Three species of arboreal marsupials, common ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus), greater glider (Petauroides volans) and common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula), were moderately common and all showed marked differences in abundance between vegetation types. Whereas P. peregrinus and P. volans exhibited a temporal decline between 2003 and 2006, T. vulpecula exhibited a general increase from 2003 levels. However, arboreal marsupial responses did not appear to be directly fire related.
Article
Reintroduction programs are used widely in conservation to reduce a species' risk of extinction and amphibians are considered suitable candidates for such programs because of their behavioural simplicity and high reproductive output.The Green and Golden Bell Frog Litoria aurea is an endangered species that has been reintroduced into several areas within its natural range, but the outcome of these programs remain unknown.This paper presents the results from the first release of the bell frog in the Hunter Region of New South Wales.This reintroduction released 850 tadpoles into a closed system of three ponds and rehabilitated habitat.Tadpole survival was high but following metamorphosis a decline in numbers began that continued for 13 months and resulted in the disappearance of all released bell frogs.The cause of this decline was investigated and eventually attributed to infection by the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus &rtrachochyh-iurn dendrobatidis.These results emphasize the importance of including regular chytrid testing in the monitoring of both natural populations and reintroduction programs, particularly as few sick and dead animals were found to indicate its presence.
Article
Roads and traffic have a multitude of impacts on wildlife populations. Wildlife existing within the confines of fragmented reserves are particularly susceptible to fatalities on roads, especially those situated within urban and semirural matrices. The sustainability of many wildlife populations within reserve fragments are tenuous as roads further subdivide reserved areas and increase the frequency of animal–vehicle contact. Although many studies have assessed the quantity and diversity of fatalities from collisions, few studies have examined the long-term viability of wildlife populations living adjacent to roads. We chose to examine the effects of disturbances, including fatalities on roads, on a population of swamp wallabies (Wallabia bicolor) within the Royal National Park on the urban fringe of Sydney, Australia. Despite having an extensive range, researchers suspect that many local populations of this sole member of Wallabia are in decline. We used a combination of population modeling and sensitivity analysis to assess the impact of disturbances on the population. Under current conditions, the forecast of the population was to decline over the next 100 years with the possibility of becoming extinct. We found that female reproduction and breeding were most influential on the population model. Of the range of management options investigated, by far the most rewarding was the reduction of fatalities on roads, as only a 20% decrease in female fatalities on roads has the potential to reverse the current decline and represents the best option for maintaining long-term viability. We suggest that documentation and subsequent management of road impacts, within the context of other threats, is essential to the conservation of similar species in road-affected environments.
Article
Powerful owls were frequently observed during a study of the ecology of a community of arboreal marsupials in south-eastern New South Wales. For about 17 months the population of greater gliders in the 100 ha study area appeared to remain ‘stable’ at more than 80 individuals. In the following 46 months, the population declined to about one-tenth of its previous level. The forest in the study area was unlogged and remained undisturbed during this period. The frequency of sightings of powerful owls holding captured greater gliders, and of observations on the ground of tails and bodies belonging to greater gliders, and the unaccountable disappearance of 9 out of 11 individually marked greater gliders in the study area, suggest that the observed decline in the population of greater gliders was due to predation by the powerful owl. Powerful owls were not detected in the study area during the first 12 months or the last 21 months of the study. It is suggested that powerful owls forage by concentrating their activities in pockets of their large home range until they reduce the populations of their preferred prey below limits where it becomes difficult to catch the remaining animals. If preferred prey are available elsewhere, powerful owls probably move their centres of foraging activity to these pockets and harvest them before moving on to the next pocket of their range.
Article
Summary In conservation management, ensuring that the most appropriate research is conducted and results are actually put into practice is a complex and challenging process. While there are success stories, many hurdles can reduce the likelihood of appropriate research being initiated and its findings communicated and implemented. This article describes the ideal research–management cycle, summarizes the major factors that impede it and draws on the experiences of the authors to provide a series of examples of successful approaches to help keep the cycle going. We consider that the major impediments to a functioning research–management cycle relate to a lack of collaboration, poor communication, inappropriate funding and political timelines, change inertia and a lack of capacity. Although addressing structural difficulties such as matching funding timelines to those required for ecological research is a fundamental challenge, we can make incremental improvements to the way in which we operate that will improve the chances that research is both useful and used. The principles underpinning our success stories are (i) strategic development of capacity, (ii) increased breadth and depth of collaborations between researchers and managers and (iii) improved communications. Participants in the research–management cycle must seek to involve stakeholders through all project stages from project conception, to implementation, evaluation and knowledge updating. Finally, we should only see the first iteration of the research process as complete when new knowledge is applied operationally with monitoring and ongoing evaluation in place.
Article
A common objective of methods of systematic reserve selection has been to maximize conservation benefits—frequently current species richness—while reducing the costs of acquiring and maintaining reserves. But the probability that a reserve will lose species in the future is frequently not known because the minimum area requirements for most species have not been estimated empirically. For reserves within the Alleghenian-Illinoian mammal province of eastern North America, we empirically estimated the minimum area requirement of terrestrial mammals such that reserves should not lose species because of insularization. We compared this estimate to the actual size of 2355 reserves and reserve assemblages within the mammal province. The estimated minimum area requirement was 5037 km2 (95% CI: 2700–13,296 km2). Fourteen reserves and reserve assemblages were> 2700 km2, 9 were> 5037 km2, and 3 were> 13,296 km2. These 14 reserves accounted for 73% of the total area of reserves and 10% of the total area of the mammal province. Few reserves appear large enough to avoid loss of some mammal species without the additional cost of active management of habitat or populations. Immigration corridors and buffer zones that combine small reserves into assemblages totaling at least 2700 km2 may be the most efficient means of conserving mammals in these reserves.
Article
Powerful owls were frequently observed during a study of the ecology of a community of arboreal marsupials in south-eastern New South Wales. For about 17 months the population of greater gliders in the 100 ha study area appeared to remain ‘stable’ at more than 80 individuals. In the following 46 months, the population declined to about one-tenth of its previous level. The forest in the study area was unlogged and remained undisturbed during this period. The frequency of sightings of powerful owls holding captured greater gliders, and of observations on the ground of tails and bodies belonging to greater gliders, and the unaccountable disappearance of 9 out of 11 individually marked greater gliders in the study area, suggest that the observed decline in the population of greater gliders was due to predation by the powerful owl. Powerful owls were not detected in the study area during the first 12 months or the last 21 months of the study. It is suggested that powerful owls forage by concentrating their activities in pockets of their large home range until they reduce the populations of their preferred prey below limits where it becomes difficult to catch the remaining animals. If preferred prey are available elsewhere, powerful owls probably move their centres of foraging activity to these pockets and harvest them before moving on to the next pocket of their range.
Article
Knowing how species respond to fire regimes is essential for ecologically sustainable management. This axiom raises two important questions: (1) what knowledge is the most important to develop and (2) to what extent can current research methods deliver that knowledge? We identify three areas of required knowledge: (i) a mechanistic understanding of species’ responses to fire regimes; (ii) knowledge of how the spatial and temporal arrangement of fires influences the biota; and (iii) an understanding of interactions of fire regimes with other processes. We review the capacity of empirical research to address these knowledge gaps, and reveal many limitations. Manipulative experiments are limited by the number and scope of treatments that can be applied, natural experiments are limited by treatment availability and confounding factors, and longitudinal studies are difficult to maintain, particularly due to unplanned disturbance events. Simulation modelling is limited by the quality of the underlying empirical data and by uncertainty in how well model structure represents reality. Due to the constraints on large-scale, long-term research, the potential for management experiments to inform adaptive management is limited. Rather than simply recommending adaptive management, we define a research agenda to maximise the rate of learning in this difficult field. This includes measuring responses at a species level, building capacity to implement natural experiments, undertaking simulation modelling, and judicious application of experimental approaches. Developing ecologically sustainable fire management practices will require sustained research effort and a sophisticated research agenda based on carefully targeting appropriate methods to address critical management questions.
Article
Aim To predict how the bioclimatic envelope of the broad-headed snake (BHS) (Hoplocephalus bungaroides) may be redistributed under future climate warming scenarios.Location South-eastern New South Wales, Australia.Methods We used 159 independent locations for the species and 35 climatic variables to model the bioclimatic envelope for the BHS using two modelling approaches – Bioclim and Maxent. Predictions were made under current climatic conditions and we also predicted the species distribution under low and high climate change scenarios for 2030 and 2070.Results Broad-headed snakes currently encompass their entire bioclimatic envelope. Both modelling approaches predict that suitable climate space for BHS will be lost to varying degrees under both climate warming scenarios, and under the worst case, only 14% of known snake populations may persist.Main conclusions Areas of higher elevation within the current range will be most important for persistence of this species because they will remain relatively moist and cool even under climate change and will match the current climate envelope. Conservation efforts should focus on areas where suitable climate space may persist under climate warming scenarios. Long-term monitoring programs should be established both in these areas and where populations are predicted to become extirpated, so that we can accurately determine changes in the distribution of this species throughout its range.
Article
A major reason for land reservation has been the relative lack of value of selected sites for major commercial land uses or for human habitation. Other important reasons include scenery, recreation, tourist potential, the influence of lobby groups, and historical protection for uses such as hunting or water supply. There are two main disadvantages of such ad hoc approaches to reserve planning. One is the bias in the content of regional reserve systems, leaving some species, communities, or ecosystems without protection, often the ones most in need of strict reservation. The second is that ad hoc reservations can make the goal of representing regional biodiversity more expensive, reducing the likelihood of protecting many elements of biodiversity. Ad hoc approaches to reservation persist despite clearly stated representation goals, improving data bases, and systematic techniques for reserve selection. The main causes need to be understood and addressed if the potential value of reservation for protecting biodiversity is to be realized.