Habitat Connectivity in Box Gum Woodlands

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Introduction:

 As part of my work experience I wanted to understand the practical applications of the course. There was no better option than to become a fieldwork volunteer for PhD research conducted by Stephanie Pulsford of the Fenner School at the ANU.  Her PhD research focused on improving the landscape connectivity for species in grazed Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands to reduce species diversity loss. In particular, it examines the movement of poor dispersing animals such as native terrestrial species (reptiles and frogs) and ground dwelling invertebrates through fragmented landscapes. The technicalities included setting up pitfall traps and drift fences in properties by digging and pegging.  Then the traps were surveyed for animals that included weighing and measuring the animal, plus keeping a tally of animals caught for the first time and those recaptured. Animals were also recorded and photographed to better identify and track their movement patterns.

Fieldwork:

 Setting up the traps involved digging up and anchoring the traps along predetermined quadrants to understand the effect of a particular site (i.e. you could see if animals were more likely to traverse along a an open grassy woodland or a more forested landscape to better understand movement patterns).

An example of a trap that was set up:

An example of a drift fence and trap

An example of a drift fence and pitfall trap

Surveying the traps was interesting as there was always a mix of animals mostly, invertebrates with lizards and amphibians. However, a trend was observed whereby it was expected to find more trapped animals in vegetated landscapes but the opposite occurred where more animals were found in less vegetated landscapes. There were also a fair number of repeat individuals caught during the two days of surveying indicating that frogs tended to move around the same area within the landscape – hence the value of the landscape connectivity. The fieldwork experience over the two days illustrated the significance of conducting field work in a systematic and ethical manner so that better future management could occur.

Reflection:

 The experience made me consider the following points relevant to biodiversity conservation:

  1. Alternative methods of biodiversity valuation from graziers.
  2. The significance of wildlife corridors in fragmented landscapes to maintain species diversity.

Graziers that understand the value of species (i.e the utilitarian benefits) are likely to conserve the biodiversity, whilst also maintaining the landscapes natural beauty. It makes biodiversity conservation more relevant to those who may have not had a personal reason to actively conserve biodiversity.

It is understood that the biggest global threat to threatened species is habitat loss. In particular, the habitat loss of an already fragmented area (<30% of cover remaining) will result in a more significant decrease in biodiversity (birds and mammals) than a more intact area (Andren, 1994). In response, it was found that animals are 50% more likely to travel to habitat patches using corridors than unconnected patches (Gilbert-Norton, et al., 2010). Consequently, Stephanie’s research can be further used to better understand the importance of corridor connectivity for terrestrial species in stopping the decline of species diversity, as there is no one way to best create and manage wildlife corridors in fragmented landscapes (Chetkiewicz, et al., 2006).

Overall, it was great fun to assist in the field and understand the importance Stephanie’s research in biodiversity conservation.

Works Cited

Andren, H., 1994. Effects of Habitat Fragmentation on Birds and Mammals in Landscapes with Different Proportions of Suitable Habitat: A Review. Oikos, 71(3), pp. 355-366.

Chetkiewicz, C.-L. B., St. Clair, C. C. & Boyce, M. S., 2006. Corridors for Conservation: Integrating Pattern and Process. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systemantics, 37(1), pp. 317-342.

Gilbert-Norton, L., Wilson, R., Stevens, J. R. & Beards, K. H., 2010. A Meta-Analytic Review of Corridor Effectiveness. Conservation Biology, 24(3), pp. 661-669.

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About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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