The latest edition of Tableland Talk includes an article on the importance of leaf litter, shrubs and understory for native wildlife. That fact should be bleedingly obvious to everyone, but there are still plenty of people that just want everything neat and tidy and to their liking, with little consideration for the animals, plants and fungi that make our world livable, enjoyable and beautiful.
We all lament the impact of foxes and cats on our native wildlife, but habitat loss is just as big a driver of extinction among Australian fauna – at the local, regional and national level. Trailcam surveys conducted as part of a long-term citizen science program in the Strathbogie Forest emphasize just how important dense ground layer vegetation is for numerous animals. In the presence of cats and foxes, even those native species most at risk of predation (eg. antechinus, pygmy-possums, native rats, bandicoots) stand a chance of survival – as long as there’s habitat!
This one trailcam, set in a thicket of prickly currant bush (Coprosma quadrifida) under a canopy of messmate (Eucalyptus obliqua) and narrow-leaf peppermint (E. radiata) detected 15 species of bird and mammal, including native species that have become locally extinct across large parts of the Strathbogie Ranges – the Long-nosed Bandicoot (Perameles nasuta), Bush Rat (Rattus fuscipes) and Agile Antechinus (Antechinus agilis). By clearing, burning and mowing bush areas, including roadsides, even if you leave the trees, virtually all these animals disappear. Their survival depends 100% on stands of dense, shrubby vegetation. When it comes to nature and ecology – Messy Is Good!
This trailcam detected all the usual suspects – Black Wallaby, Common Wombat, Short-beaked Echidna, Red Fox, Feral Cat, Sambar Deer – but also species that are less often detected, like the native Bush Rat and Koala. It’s fantastic to see a Long-nosed Bandicoot on these images, even if it’s only one visit to the site during the two months the trailcam was set-up.
These photo-pairs show how local extinction occurs. Each photo-pair shows habitat either side of a stretch of road on the Strathbogie Tableland. The left photo in each pair shows shrubby habitat that provides substantial habitat for many hundreds of species. The right photo shows the impact of clearing and mowing – the trees remain, but virtually everything else has been exterminated. The small mammals, bush birds, lizards and frogs that live in the habitat in the left photos cannot survive when that habitat is cleared.
Whilst there’s an argument for mitigating fire risk along roadsides, this need to be done thoughtfully and not at the expense of important natural values. The removal of native vegetation without the appropriate permit is both illeagle and will lead to the ongoing degradation on natural values in the shire. For a detailed look at natural values on roadsides – Survey of roadsides in the Strathbogie Shire – report to Strathbogie Shire Council.