Fast tracking evolution and what NSW does

Different approaches to conserving threatened species hit the news this week, the first being in the Northern territory. The ABC reports that animals from Kakadu National Park will be trapped and dispatched to Gardangarl (aka Field Island), as part of the federal government’s new 10 year Threatened Species strategy. Gardangarl forms part of Kakadu, is around 4,400 hectares in size,  and is apparently  free from cats, pigs, and other invasive species.  According to the Endangered Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews, ferals combined with inappropriate fire regimes, have resulted in many threatened species in Kakadu declining by more than 90 per cent .

In South Australia, the SMH reported on experiments attempting to ‘fast track evolution’ where ‘450 bettongs and bilbies will be placed inside a 26-kilometre-squared fenced area with one feral cat.’ The idea is to see which ones survive, so they may have a better chance to co-exist with feral predators, out side the fence. This is a longer term project, likely take take closer to 100 years.

In Western Australia, the ABC reported on studies determining which species were taking the 1080 baits put out for foxes. As it turned only one of the 100 monitored baits was taken by a fox, the rest being taken by quokkas (48%), possums, bandicoots, kangaroos, magpies, ravens, and feral pigs.

WA’s Department of Parks and Wildlife was concerned the research could be interpreted to suggest the fox baiting was ineffective. It indicated 10 years of fox baiting had increased quokka numbers, so it wasn’t surprising they were picking up more baits.

koala years

Locally, where fox/dog baiting has been occurring for more than ten years, there isn’t much to show for it. The long-footed potoroo for example, only found in the Eden region in NSW, has recently been listed as critically endangered, and it seems likely  there will be some sort of koala announcement in the near future.

After a long break, I recently came across some fresh koala pellets that, as indicated on the map, is the sixth time over 13 years I’ve found evidence of koalas at this location. The area is on both private land and state forests, and as indicated is wedged between two bell-miner colonies.

While trees under which pellets were found are consistent with the generally accepted koala feed trees, there are a couple of other factors.

Firstly, the distance between the furthest trees is only 180 meters, yet koalas have never used the same trees twice, or any others in the area. This small sample cannot be extrapolated to elsewhere, however it does raise the issue of proposed logging, and how one could possibly tell what trees koalas may prefer.

In addition, and given the recent admission from the OE&H that ‘there is relatively low suitable foliage for them to eat’, it seems reasonable to assume that the trees, due to the soils they are growing in, are only suitable for koalas very occasionally.

So it will be interesting to see if the government gets around to considering soil limitations as a threat to koalas. It seems likely the proposed ‘integrated cross-tenures approach’ will be pretty hollow if it doesn’t.

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