I recently learnt about a shocking example of biodiversity management on our very own campus. A new building was built in an endangered ecological community of White Box – Yellow Box – Blakely’s Red Gum grasslands. Whilst development at the expense of biodiversity conservation is an ongoing issues, there is a further sad part of this story. When the builders completed the building, there was an area of disturbed grassland that needed rehabilitation to prevent erosion. The contractors planted this to grass, and finished their job.
However, the tough, quick-growing grass they chose was Chilean Needle Grass, Nasella neesiana. This plant is listed as a weed of national significance and Iaconis (2004) estimates that is the weed of greatest threat to indigenous grasslands in south-eastern Australia. Weeds threaten biodiversity by competing with locally indigenous species for water, nutrients and habitat space. Chilean needlegrass is a prolific seeder. Its seeds spread easily and can remain viable after long periods in the seedbed, such that it quickly dominates the landscape. Thus, whilst planting Chilean Needle Grass may have achieved some landscape restoration aims, it poses a significant threat to the biodiversity of the adjacent remnant grasslands.
Controlling the spread of this grass now requires significant inputs, which could have been avoided if the area was appropriately restored initially. This case demonstrates a need to embed specific ecological knowledge into our institutions. In this case, contractors needed to be presented with clear guidelines of which plants were appropriate to plant. This could have been implemented by the university in their building contract or the commonwealth government through approvals under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Ideally, the university should ensure that staff responsible for ongoing grounds maintenance are trained in biodiversity management. They could then implement ecological restoration of construction sites, including planting native species, or using an artificial earth stabilisation technique instead of planting noxious weeds. Research carried out by ecologists not a few kilometres away in the Fenner School of Environment and Society could inform biodiversity management.
There is some good news for biodiversity on campus. The ANU has produced a draft management plan for biodiversity. Facilities and Services have now appointed a staff member to manage this and other significant biodiversity areas. You can also volunteer to assist ANU Green (our environmental division of Facilities and Services) with weed management to protect threatened species in the grasslands on campus. Biodiversity conservation does not just happen in nature reserves, it is also relevant on campus, and even our own backyards. So let’s ensure we all have the basic ecological knowledge and structures to contribute.
Chilean Needle Grass:
Iaconis, L.J. (2004). Identification of Chilean needle grass, Nassella neesiana – a Weed of National Significance, in B.M. Sindel & S.B. Johnson (eds), Weed Management: balancing people, planet, profit. Papers and proceedings of the 14th Australian Weeds Conference, held 6-9 September 2004, Wagga Wagga. Weed Society of New South Wales.
Text and image: Heidi Congdon, Australian National University (firstname.lastname@example.org)