We all love the plants, animals and other aspects of the natural world that we are surrounded with and want to learn how to protect them – the best that we can. You can aim as high as you like – or as humble as you like. Just do what you can. At the basic level, it could mean increasing your own awareness of wildlife and its needs. At a moderate level, it could mean installing a bird bath and providing fresh water to those in need and removing a few weeds. At the upper level, it could mean planting out your property and designing it in a way that maximises wildlife habitat.
The environment has been changed drastically with European arrival and increasing population levels. Much of the remnant vegetation has been cleared for agriculture, housing and infrastructure. In addition to habitat loss, there are many species that were introduced that subsequently became pests, causing enormous environmental and economic loss. Such species include rabbits, cats and foxes. At an invertebrate level, the European Honeybee, while providing economic benefit for pollination of crops, is a threat to native pollinators and ecosystems. The extreme changes to the environment have resulted in severe species loss, with 1 bird and 11 mammals having become extinct in the Northern Territory. In addition to the loss of fauna species, we are also experiencing a loss of plant species and erosion problems.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. With advances in research, we have come to understand the unique qualities of our native flora and fauna and the ecosystems of which they are a part. Wildlife is an asset that we should strive to retain. Landscape planning is important for flora and fauna considerations. In addition, biodiversity is important at many levels economically – environmental restoration, ecotourism, bush food cultivation, carbon credits, plant propagation and provision to the public, parks/reserves, environmental education to schools… and the list goes on!
Rural communities play an important role in protecting and rehabilitating the environment through groups such as Landcare, Land for Wildlife and other community based programs. Many parcels of land are locked up in pastoral leases, residential freehold and crown land. Remnant vegetation is often only visible on roadside verges and uninhabitable hillsides. As a result, National Parks are often preserving the extremes – ranges, gorges, valleys. The flat and degraded landscapes are often overlooked and require private landholders to get involved, especially if the land includes precious remnant habitat.
3 R’s – The priority for conserving flora is to Retain remnant vegetation, Restore the quality of degraded habitats, and Revegetate cleared areas.
There are a few general considerations when it comes to property planning for wildlife, including integration of land uses, time, space and species thresholds, and quality the habitat available.
Integration of land uses
Ensure you are meeting all your needs with respect to land use. Do you need space for working outdoors? Relaxation spaces? Active spaces for sport? Cover your needs and work with the rest.
Time is required for habitats to develop, for pioneer species to be replaced by those of older stages, and for trees to develop hollows. Plan and be patient.
Quantity and Space Thresholds: Connect and Consolidate
The bigger the better! Larger and more compact areas support a greater diversity of habitats on different land systems, more species due to quantity and diversity of resources (see the species to area relationship), larger populations, and a greater chance of linkages between habitats. A space threshold is the minimum area required for a certain species to establish. If you are targeting selected species, ensure that you have the space required to support it before dedicating planting and planning activities towards it. For example, the Hooded Robin requires a territory of around 5 hectares, so many rural blocks may not be sufficient in their own right. Remember, getting your neighbours involved helps to widen the habitat corridor and larger patches are achievable with coordinated efforts. Complex large patches are integral during drought, as many bird species congregate in resource-rich sites in poor conditions, known as drought refuges.
For vegetation, compact areas are important as there is a greater core area away from edge disturbance (weeds, predators, surrounding land use). In the undergrowth, there are usually more weeds around edges, so smaller forbs and native grasses are likely to thrive in the core area of a larger patch. For larger trees, there is often more Mistletoe found in trees around edges that can put stress on large trees. Many species of fauna avoid edges due to the risk of predation and prefer core areas that provide safety. Yellow-throated Miners may dominate in linear patches of habitat and out-compete other smaller White-plumed Honeyeaters, Babblers etc, that prefer to take safety in core areas. Having some larger core areas will enable the wildlife to reach a balance.
On the other hand, edges offer a greater variety of resources for some fauna species that are able to utilise the adjacent habitats equally and can result in greater species diversity. For example, Kangaroos benefit from edges as they can take protection in woodlands and graze in open paddocks and dusk and dawn. The aforementioned Mistletoe, common around edges, is also necessary. It is native and has a symbiotic relationship with native Mistletoe Birds and the Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, so don’t be hasty to remove it.
To help alleviate the effect of edges on remnant habitat, start by increasing the core area by undertaking revegetation activities around narrow areas. You may also wish to separate two differing and incompatible land uses with an intermediate complementary land use – a buffer. For example, if a portion of your property is being used for livestock and an adjacent patch of remnant vegetation has a significant edge, consider planting alongside the edge with an intermediate habitat to lessen the edge effect.
There is an increased risk of impact from random events in small and isolated patches, and limitations on dispersal of wildlife may be an issue. Therefore, if you have several small patches of habitat and no opportunity to expand them in size, you may wish to consider connecting the patches with wildlife corridors or stepping stones. Connected habitats protect area-limited and dispersal-limited species by providing an avenue for secure movement.
How much you can achieve will depend on how large your property is. If you have the time, space and resources – aim high! If you have a small area and are unable to increase patch size, you can adopt alternative management strategies such as restoring cover and connectivity to improve habitat for various species. Start with realistic goals, you can always expand if time and space allows it.
The quality of the habitat, the degree of degradation, and how well it functions are all important aspects to consider. So once the major aspects have been thought through, you can make your way down to the nitty gritty. What are you aiming for? For many, a generally healthy ecosystem is the goal. A healthy habitat is one in which most of the layers of vegetation are present and dominated by native plant species typical of the region. It is also a system that is free from disturbance, including introduced weeds and feral animals. High ecosystem function includes adequate pollination of flowering plants by native invertebrates and birds, natural wood decay for recycling of nutrients and provision of nesting hollows, as well as the presence of breeding populations of living organisms native to the area.
Vegetation Layers and Habitat Diversity
Adding layers of complexity in the garden increases the diversity of life that uses it as habitat. At a large scale, complexity can be in the form of different habitat types such as woodlands (many bird species), grasslands (Zebra Finch), creek lines (Kingfisher, Frogs, Fish), caves (Bats), gullies (Frogs), and hillsides (Euros, Wallabies).
Most species are highly dependent on water availability and quality so ensure you include water courses in your plan where possible. Protect existing watercourses and avoid modifying them to allow them to remain natural. If degraded, consider revegetating with native plants to prevent erosion, enhance wildlife habitat and encourage healthy water. In areas that don’t have natural water courses, you may consider installing a bird bath that can provide a water source. A bird bath that is raised above the ground and abutting shrubbery on one side will protect small birds from predators. Ponds are also suitable water sources for reptiles and frogs. Water baths can be topped up manually, or via a drip irrigation system as part of the whole garden. Install water tanks and a method of catching excess rain water to make the most of the water available.
Within a habitat type, complexity includes the provision of large canopy trees (Parrots, birds of prey) with tree hollows (Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Bats) and loose hanging bark (Shrike Tit), complemented by a protective understorey (Rufous Whistler, Robins), ground cover, herbs, grasses and soil-crusting cryptograms. For example, a minimum of 30% tree cover is needed to maintain woodland birds. Smaller bird species are not as abundant in areas with little understorey, rather such open and scattered habitats favour the more aggressive Yellow-throated Miners. Healthy habitats include flowering trees and shrubs to support native pollinators (Honeyeaters, Invertebrates) and Mistletoe (Mistletoe Bird, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater), and provides logs (Treecreepers, Reptiles), termite mounds (Perentie), rocky areas (Reptiles, Frogs), sandy areas (Snakes, Goannas), and mulch or groundcover (Reptiles, Invertebrates).
In terms of structure, the complexity of a habitat should provide breeding and sheltering sites, foraging sites, basking and hibernation sites, perching sites, runaways and refuges, camouflage, nurseries, and leaf-litter traps.
In Alice Springs, there are more than 600 native plant species, distributed over 27 individual vegetation types (as classified by Albrecht and Pitts in 2004). The vegetation present at a particular site is a result of regional and landscape factors such as rainfall, temperature, altitude, and topography; local factors such as soil type, geology, slope, aspect, and prevailing weather; individual factors such as environmental tolerance; and historical factors such as fire, disease, human impact, evolution, and species introductions. Local native species are best suited for revegetation activities as the wildlife has coevolved with the plant life – they often rely on each other for survival.
In arid Australia, it’s important to conserve water. You can do this by planting wisely. Local native plant species require less water than introduced species and lawns once established. Native plants are also hardy, giving you ‘bang for your buck’.
Be sure you keep updated about when the plant sales are on and what to buy – get in early to avoid missing out on the appropriate plants of your choice. Consider propagating your own plants to save money if revegetating large areas. This requires good timing and patience, as many native plants take many years to establish. If planting young individuals, choose your timing to avoid hot days and stress to plants, avoid planting before going on holidays or have a house-sitter that can look after them.
Plant wisely – use local native species where possible, account for growth of tree roots and canopy size (some species may interfere with each other or disrupt infrastructure), avoid lawns (they are water thirsty and don’t really add to the biodiversity – consider Lippia or Creeping Boobialla as an alternative), consider irrigation planning before planting (applies water where it is specifically needed, reduces water loss through evaporation, and encourages deep root growth). It’s a good idea to include wattles (Acacia sp.) in your planting plan for their nitrogen fixing abilities.
Free from Disturbance
Weeds and feral animals can have a serious impact on native flora and fauna populations. Invasive species often out-compete native species for resources, thereby reducing their chance of survival. The removal of Buffel Grass (not a declared weed) will often result in the reestablishment of a host of native forbs and grasses that act as a food source for native wildlife. Purchase plants, soil and mulch from local retailers to minimise the introduction of weeds. Protect seedlings from rabbits and other herbivores with guards and protect seedlings from water loss with mulch. Remove feral species such as Cats and Spotted Turtle-doves with an active and ethical trapping program. The establishment of feral and pest bird populations can be prevented by enclosing chicken feeders to eliminate access to seed.
Natural and termite-induced wood decay is important for recycling of nutrients and provision of nesting hollows. Avoid pruning dying branches if safe to do so to ensure adequate perching sites and to allow decay, in turn providing habitat and nesting hollows for diversity of bat, insect and avian species. Leaving fallen branches to decay naturally will not only provide habitat for native reptiles and invertebrates, but allow Termites to feed and recycle nutrients back into the system.
A Healthy System
Successful pollination of flowering plants by native invertebrates and nectarivorous birds will enable plants to come into fruit and seed and therefore self-generate in the system. Some seed can then be collected for propagation, and the rest allowed to fall and natural regeneration to occur.
The presence of breeding populations of living organisms native to the area is indicative of a healthy working ecosystem.
Help the Needy
It’s important to protect threatened fauna species and their habitats where possible. To do this, you need to know where individuals occur and what habitat they require. Resources for this include Fauna Atlas records on NR Maps and the Atlas of Living Australia, as well as the NT Government Threatened Animals and Threatened Plants pages.
The NT Register of Significant Trees has a list of some of the territory’s most significant trees, but access to AAPA can also highlight other culturally significant trees or sites that are worthy of protecting.
Summary: Make a Plan
Begin by mapping or drawing your house and block. Google Earth, Google Maps and NR Maps can help you to get an idea of the shape and layout of your property.
Identify any significant sites that need protection.
Where are the water courses and wetlands?
Identify the remnant habitat patches. Which ones can be expanded?
What is the distance between healthy patches? Where can stepping stones and corridors be placed to increase connectivity? Where can buffers be placed to reduce effects of surrounding land use?
Improve the quality of degraded vegetation. Enlarge, widen or create linkages?
Revegetate areas of concern with local native species, including endangered species where possible
What is the percentage cover as it stands? How much do you want to add and where? Plan ahead to avoid overcrowding and competition for resources.
Are the needs of the desired wildlife species being met? How can this be improved?
Consider smart fencing – allow for movement by wildlife.
Display your Land for Wildlife or Garden for Wildlife sign – this shows others in the area of your commitment to wildlife habitat preservation and restoration and helps to encourage others to follow your lead. This in turn creates a vegetation corridor or network of properties for wildlife to move between.
By John Tyne (Parks and Wildlife Commission NT)
John Tyne (Parks and Wildlife Commission NT) and Erin Westerhuis (Charles Darwin University) gave an excellent presentation and workshop on bat boxes at the Land for Wildlife birthday event recently. Here, John gives some hints and tips on how to create bat boxes of your own.
Thanks for your interest in the bat boxes that I was showing on Saturday!
The bat boxes I built were all made from one plank of untreated softwood timber. To make one of the smaller boxes, you’ll need approximately 1.5 m of timber that is 190 mm wide and 45 mm thick. I was able to find a piece like this at the Home Hardware shop in town. I used 70mm long exterior timber screws to piece it all together.
|The back piece||350 mm long x 190 mm wide x 45 mm thick|
|The front piece||200 mm long x 190 mm wide x 45 mm thick|
|Two side pieces||200 mm long x 190 mm wide x 45 mm thick|
|The roof piece||380 mm long x 190 mm wide x 45 mm thick|
|The base/floor||100 mm long x 170 mm wide x 45 mm thick
(this is the only piece that isn’t 190 mm wide!)
|Two spacers for back:||50 mm long x 190 mm wide x 45 mm thick
(these are to put on the back of the box so when you hang it is off the tree/post a little ways)
On the inside I used a staple gun to put up some old shade cloth. Instead of shade cloth you could score lines into the back so that the bats are able to climb it more easily. On the extension out the bottom that the bats will have to land on to climb up, I scored the timber using a hand saw. You could also put shade cloth on this instead. The gap at the base should be around 20 mm wide to allow the bats to climb in. On the boxes I made, I put an exterior grade metal hinge and two magnetic clasps on the lid so that I could open it. You could simplify things by just fixing the lid down with screws and not using a hinge. Depending on where you hang it, you could just screw it straight to an object (shed/post), or you could strap it to a tree. Try and hang the box at least 3 meters high, in a sheltered area but with a clear flight path to the box entry.
Good luck putting this together, and let me know if you have some success with bats moving in. Any questions feel free to ask!
~ John Tyne
Build bat boxes to install on your property and provide them with a safe space by following John Tyne’s helpful instructions. You can also download some fact sheets that were provided by the crew on the day, including Boxes for Bats and also the Bat Roost Box Kit.
Land for Wildlife is celebrating 15 years of the program in central Australia, and Garden for Wildlife is celebrating 10 years of the program! We hope that the two complementary programs have been beneficial to our members and we look forward to continuing to support local landholders to preserve, enhance and restore wildlife habitat on private properties in the years to come.
Thanks to our host Low Ecological Services and current funding partners (Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife, Alice Springs Town Council, Territory NRM), as well as those that have funded and supported us in the past (so many!). We couldn’t have done it without you!
Many thanks to all Land for Wildlife coordinators past and present for building the program up to be what it is and providing expert assistance to landholders throughout central Australia. Thanks also go to the local organisations and groups that have supported us over the years to get the word out and assist us with the program at large.
Land for Wildlife celebrated the occasion with an event at the end of September, held at Olive Pink Botanic Garden (a long standing LFW member themselves who were gracious to provide assistance with the event venue). The event was very successful with roughly 35 LFW and GFW members in attendance for a range of great workshops and presentations. Presentations included a summary of the program, a property planning for wildlife presentation, an NT register of significant trees update, a seed collection workshop by Charles Darwin University, a bat box building workshop by Parks and Wildlife Commission NT, and a documentary Wild Brumby Run. The event included catering for morning tea, as well as lunch, provided by the Land for Wildlife team.
Thanks to Territory Natural Resource Management for supporting the event through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme. In addition, Olive Pink Botanic Garden provided in kind support towards the fabulous venue. Local groups provided door prizes as in kind support, including books from Land for Wildlife, two vouchers from Red Kangaroo Books and two vouchers from Alice Springs Desert Park. The lucky recipients were drawn at random from those present—we hope that the vouchers and books are well received (they are certainly well deserved!).
There has been some excellent feedback from the event, with many of the attendees showing great appreciation for the informative workshops and a chance to mingle with other members. As part of the 15th birthday event, we provided some background and a summary on the Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife program in central Australia (presented below).
Land for Wildlife is a not-for-profit program that runs in various capacities throughout Australia. Land for Wildlife is aimed at assisting landholders in peri-urban and rural areas to preserve, enhance and recreate wildlife habitat. A parallel program, Garden for Wildlife, was developed in the biodiverse hotspot Alice Springs to assist members residing on urban blocks. The programs rely on voluntary and non-legally binding efforts from local landholders.
Land for Wildlife as a brand was established in 1981 by the Victorian government and Bird Observer’s Club of Australia. Land for Wildlife in Alice Springs and its partner program Garden for Wildlife have been running successfully for fifteen years, and ten years, respectively. They have been hugely successful programs and are widely regarded in the Alice Springs region. The program was initially run through the Alice Springs Town Council on a three year federal government grant. The Alice Springs Town Council ran it for a year, with Low Ecological Services taking up the remainder of the contract and hosting the program ever since and seeking grant moneys from a variety of agencies. The program is currently funded locally through Parks and Wildlife NT and the Alice Springs Town Council remains a sponsor. The program also has funding for individual projects through support from Territory Natural Resource Management and funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare programme. Additional previous funding bodies include Territory Eco-Link, Territory Natural Resource Management, Caring for Country, Landcare, Natural Heritage Trust, Envirofund, PowerWater and Low Ecological Services with in kind support and endurance.
Many of the member properties are situated within the MacDonnell Ranges Bioregion, containing the highest number of vulnerable and rare species listed with conservation status nationally and at the NT level. As a result, preserving even small patches of vegetation is a worthwhile venture in terms of providing habitat for native fauna species (and protecting the local native flora species themselves).
The member base extends to Yulara in the south-west, Andado Station and Ross River in the south-east, Narwietooma Station to the north-west and Tennant Creek Airport to the north. Cumulative property area covered by the 103 Land for Wildlife and 156 Garden for Wildlife members is 291,531 hectares, and rising.
Collaboration with private landholders is a successful method of conserving habitats and nature corridors, to address the challenge of species decline though habitat loss. This is achieved through regular engagement activities (workshops, participation in public events and monthly newsletters), providing networking opportunities, as well as providing on-going support and management advice specific to each block.
When signing up a new Land for Wildlife member, an assessment is conducted on the property, which includes identifying the flora and checking for tracks or scats of fauna, as well as identifying special value habitats and any management issues the property may have. An assessment report is then prepared for the property owner, which includes detailed information about the assessment, property management concerns and suggested methods for going forward. Ongoing assistance in the form of support, advice, information resources and links to other professionals and specialist organisations in the region is provided. Garden for Wildlife is more informal and membership does not include an assessment or report, but rather a resource package and informal site visit to assist with development planning, any queries and plant identification.
Attention in both programs is given to encouraging landholders to plant local native plant species, as these species are self-reliant and there is a subsequent reduction in water use in our water-limited semi-arid zone. Retaining and protecting remnant vegetation is recommended to members. To allow regeneration of habitat, members are advised to fence areas from livestock and restrict the access of livestock to ephemeral rivers and drainage systems. Encouraging distribution of run-off and controlling erosion is oft-needed advice. Members are encouraged to control weed and feral species, such as removal of Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) to allow room for native grasses, and trapping feral cats (Felis catus) to limit the predation pressure on native mammals and reptiles. Protecting various elements of wildlife habitat, such as fallen wood, leaf litter and dead branches and trees with hollows are also encouraged.
While the programs have been successful for many long-term members, Alice Springs has a notoriously transient population. While this has benefits in people taking ‘the message’ with them to other regions, it also makes maintaining contact with member properties and their current owners an ongoing challenge. This challenge has been overcome through a combination of efforts, such as the use of MailChimp as an online newsletter mailing tool – bouncing emails promote impetus to contact members to clarify their current status, regular interaction with members to stay up to date with their conservation efforts and the encouragement of communication through the monthly newsletter. The small community of Alice Springs has the benefit that networking with members through chance meetings around town is a useful tool.
As well as the transient membership, the coordinator position has been run by many energetic and qualified specialists over the period of the program in central Australia. While this can be a challenge for members with respect to different levels of engagement, each coordinator comes with a different focus, drive and experience – which can be a benefit in that the information and energy is kept fresh. A potential benefit for incoming coordinators and for LFW members is the amazing expertise and experience available amongst the LfW landholders and their willingness to share that expertise.
Land for Wildlife has been incredibly successful and is a much-loved program in the region. One of the major avenues of communicating with and engaging members and the wider community is through the monthly newsletter and social media posts. Newsletters contain relevant and current information on hot topics, which members can use to manage their properties. The newsletter also provides opportunities for members to share their experience and wildlife snapshots with other members. The website blog and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, give multi-media savvy members avenues of staying engaged with Land for Wildlife on a more regular basis between newsletters – whether it be through the posting of a photo from a member, sharing upcoming events, or posting an article relevant to the day. It also gives Land for Wildlife members the ability to interact as much or as little as they wish, without intensive moderation from the coordinator. Social media followers are steadily increasing with regular interaction. Social media also enables Land for Wildlife to engage with people that are outside of the membership network – the Alice Springs community, Australia and internationally.
Land for Wildlife collaborates with many government agencies, which provides a conduit to gain and pass on information – such as PowerWater for water conservation, Department of Land and Resource Management for weed management and erosion control information, and Parks and Wildlife for flora and fauna information. The experience of the LfW coordinators and the networks provided by the role means that the coordinator is able to handle a wide variety of issues.
Engagement with the youth of Alice Springs occurs through a range of community events, with the DesertSmart EcoFair providing one very useful lead. Land for Wildlife ran a ‘Biodiversity’ workshop to four school groups at this year’s EcoFair, with positive feedback coming from all involved. Exposure is gained from our involvement in other community events such as the Olive Pink Botanic Garden Plant Sales, EcoFair markets, Pets on Parade, Alice Springs Show and Mini Bilby Festival.
Collaboration with the Tjuwanpa Women Rangers and the Ntaria Junior Rangers on a regular basis has resulted in the development of a good working relationship with the indigenous communities in the West MacDonnell Ranges, as well as cross-cultural information transferral regarding important NRM issues of the region.
The land assessments give the property owners knowledge regarding the flora present on their block. Many members find plant identification a challenge and are hesitant to do extensive weed control at the risk of removing natives. With a little guidance regarding plant identification, members are much more willing to get active in the garden removing the pesky species, resulting in a healthy garden full of local natives. Land for Wildlife encourages nurseries to provide local native plants and encourages the nursery association to assist in spreading the word, but maintaining those connections is always a challenge due to the transient nature of Alice Springs.
Several properties are now Buffel grass free and only require minimal maintenance to keep the Buffel at bay, and some property owners have even made their way out onto the verge to clear the buffel. Consequently, many native forbs and flowering annuals have returned, providing fruit, seed and foraging vegetation cover for native birds and other fauna.
Erosion control and education has been a priority, which has been extremely helpful for members and other residents in the rural area of Ilparpa.
A long-term success on central Australian Land for Wildlife properties has been the ongoing trapping support given to members for feral animals such as cats, rabbits and spotted turtle doves. Members can borrow traps and get the information resources necessary to assist them in their trapping journey.
In the last couple of years, Land for Wildlife has been running a domestic cat monitoring project in Alice Springs. This is supported by Territory Natural Resource Management, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme. The project focuses on engaging domestic cat owners regarding responsible pet management by tracking the movements of pet cats with a GPS tracker. The project has been picked up by the local media on several occasions and has gained a huge amount of interest in the community.
The NT Register of Significant Trees was conceived in 1982 by the National Trust and Greening Australia and is now management by Land for Wildlife central Australia. It includes central Australia, Katherine and the Darwin region. Candice Appleby has been working hard to revitalise the register and convert it to an online format.
Land for Wildlife/Garden for Wildlife has won many awards over the years, including: Best Urban NRM Group (TNRM Awards 2015 and 2016), Toshiba Leading Information Award Community Group (NT Landcare Awards 2011), Community Award (Melaleuca Awards 2010), Urban Landcare Award (NT Landcare Awards 2009), and Merit Award (NT Landcare Awards 2007).
Our success has come from a combination of all efforts that have been put in, from workshops and attending events, newsletters, social media interaction to personalised engagement and advice. Overall, Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife have been hugely successful in central Australia for engaging the community regarding the importance of preserving and revegetating wildlife habitat on private as well as public lands and we look forward to another 15 strong years of the program.
Land for Wildlife launched the second edition of Reptiles and Frogs of Alice Springs by Nic Gambold and Deborah Metters at the Alice Springs Reptile Centre this month. The launch was attended by 20 keen Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife members, who were treated to a presentation by Rex Neindorf on the biology and habits of legless lizards (Family PYGOPODIDAE).
Rex explained how members can identify the differences between some of the common legless lizards and small venomous snakes. He showed an example of an Excitable Delma or Excitable Snake Lizard (Delma tincta), which can often be confused with a baby brown snake. The two reptiles have a similar colour, both lay eggs and both slither along the ground. However, there are some clear differences, which were explained in detail and shown to those attending the event.
When the Excitable Delma was released onto the ground, the reason for its name became obvious. The legless lizard launched its body around on the ground with a huge amount of excitement. This was a great way to distinguish the difference between this particular legless lizard and snake. Rule 1: Snakes don’t jump. They do slither along the ground and they can launch their head and front third of their body, but they are not jumpers. Excitable Delmas are able to jump several centimetres off the ground, using their whole body.
Legless lizards have ears and some have eyelids and snakes do not have either. This is an easy way to tell the difference between the two types of reptiles, if you can get close enough without putting yourself or others in danger. Snakes can’t blink, instead they have a thin transparent scale that covers the eye, which are known as spectacles and are replaced when the snake sheds its skin. Snakes don’t have visible ear openings, but rather their inner ear is connected directly to the jawbone, which senses vibrations. Many legless lizards have small ear openings behind the jaw. Legless lizards may have lost their legs as large extensions over evolutionary time, however they do possess small residual nodules to the rear where the hind legs would have been. Keep an eye on the tongue of the reptile when it licks the air. Snakes have a very distinctly forked tongue, which is quite long and slim, whereas legless lizards have a fatter tongue that lacks a defined fork.
Legless lizards have the ability to drop their tail as a life-saving protection mechanism from predators, known as caudal autotomy. Many land owners are tricked this way when they are frightened, thinking they have found a snake and take to the individual with a shovel, only to find the animal does not die (quite the opposite for a snake, but we do not recommend testing this theory as we are pro-life for all reptiles!). Many legless lizards have a very small body and a large tail and hence are not killed when sliced in half. The tail will then regenerate given enough time and cause no discomfort to the individual. The regenerating tail has a slight colour difference in comparison to the rest of the body and so a shearing point can be found on some legless lizards that have undergone regeneration. Snakes do not regenerate a tail and therefore similar patternation can be found down the length of the body.
Some other distinguishing characteristics are less easy to identify in a hurry. For example, if you can get the reptile to roll over (good luck), you can check the ventral pattern of the scales. In venomous snakes, the ventral scales are wide, extending along the width of the belly and continue in such a way down the length of the body. In legless lizards, the scales on the underbelly are much like those on the rest of the body. Snakes are able to use their belly and side scales to move in an S-shape along the ground, whereas legless lizards can only use their sides. This means that if a legless lizard moves onto a completely smooth surface, it will lose its ability to move (important to note if you see one on the road – take care and drive around it if possible). If you happen to keep an eye on it long enough to find it feeding, legless lizards are not able to unlock their jaws to swallow large prey so they will generally go for smaller food items than snakes will.
Differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes include the size of the body scales (large in venomous snakes and small in non-venomous snakes), patterning of the body (non-intricate in venomous snakes and intricate in non-venomous snakes), tail movement (non-prehensile tail in venomous snakes, prehensile in non-venomous snakes) and loreal scales (no loreal scales in venomous snakes, loreal scales in non-venomous snakes).
Rex also explained about the snake catching service provided by the Alice Springs Reptile Centre. He noted that they have caught fewer snakes than usual this year since there has been a lot of rain so the snakes can’t be seen amongst the grass as easily, though the catch levels were still higher than we expected.
If you notice a venomous snake on your property, you can call the Alice Springs Reptile Centre call-out number on 0407 983 276. Keep an eye on the snake and they will attend to collect it as soon as possible. Snakes are then released at several sites around Alice Springs in the rural area, depending on the required habitat of the caught individual.
The Alice Springs Reptile Centre is selling snake bandages that have indicator boxes to determine the correct application of tension to prevent the venom spreading. If you are updating your first aid kit, you may wish to visit Rex and his team to discuss suitable bandage options.
Thanks go to Rex Neindorf for launching the Reptiles and Frogs of Alice Springs booklet and providing such an informative presentation!
The Reptiles and Frogs of Alice Springs booklet can be purchased from Land for Wildlife Central Australia for $15 at any of our upcoming stalls at local events. You can also grab copies from Arid Lands Environment Centre and Red Kangaroo Books.
Land for Wildlife kicked off last weekend with its first collaborative workshop for 2017 – a Buffel Busters inspiration tour of Alice Springs. Arid Lands Environment Centre hosted the event as part of their Biodiversity Matters initiative, with Land for Wildlife supporting the tour to a range of Land for Wildlife properties and other local landcare properties. This was supported by Territory Natural Resource Management, Desert Knowledge Australia, Olive Pink Botanic Garden and Alice Springs Landcare Inc. The workshop was attended by 25 keen Buffel Busters, seeking inspiration for the removal of the pesky introduced Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris). The drive gave the workshop participants several chances to compare Buffel-laden versus buffel-free sites, including identification of some of the native grasses, forbs and shrubs that can germinate in the absence of Buffel.
The first stop on the tour was made to the property of local botanist and grass expert, Peter Latz. Peter has spent many years on his eight hectare plot, removing Buffel Grass, Couch (Cynodon dactylon) and invasive Lovegrasses (two of the Eragrostis sp.). Peter, along with several neighbours, has removed Buffel from adjacent drainage lines, which he says is one of the main incoming sources of seed to his property. Buffel Grass has resulted in several large fires incinerating some of the old Ironwood (Acacia estrophiolata) trees, one of the main problems with this introduced grass, according to ‘Latzi’. The effort to remove Buffel Grass, which has been a ten-year task, has resulted in greater plant and animal diversity on his block.
The removal of Buffel has been accomplished by spraying large patches, chipping out smaller pockets with a hoe or mattock. He suggests that you should never spray Buffel once the seeds have fallen, as they are tough enough that they become resistant to herbicides. The Buffel should be sprayed twice and then removed by mechanical means (hoe or mattock). Peter states that they key to effective Buffel removal is to be present during the active growing season (following heavy rains), so that the plants and seed heads can be removed before they are released from the plant.
Peter argues that while Buffel Grass is invasive and responsible for promoting more intense fires, it isn’t as bad as some of the other grasses that are taking hold in the area, such as Couch and African/Stinking Lovegrass. Buffel Grass may be helping to keep some of the other invasive weeds at bay. Buffel makes good mulch and growing plants stabilise the soil in areas of erosion concern, however the seeds must be removed to prevent the spread of the grass. Buffel grass also acts as a nutrient recycler, putting carbon back into the soil, and increasing soil fertility for when the natives regenerate. However this isn’t long-term and so nutrition declines over time in grass-dominated ecosystems, requiring phosphate to strike a balance (or the growth of legumes).
Peter recommended a book ‘Where Do Camels Belong’ by Dr Ken Thompson, which suggests that invasive species vigour declines after 50 years and becomes part of the landscape. This suggests that Buffel grass populations will eventually diminish in areas of early establishment. However, the native seed bank needs to be replenished in order for the natives to regenerate, and hence Buffel control is still needed in the meantime. This seed stock also provides food for a range of local wildlife, keeping populations of invertebrates, birds and native mice well-fed.
The second site visited was the verge of Schaber Road, where Bruce Simmons has focused his Buffel bashing efforts for many years. Originally, Bruce was concerned about the effects of erosion when removing Buffel but went ahead with some advice from the experts. He convinced his neighbours to get involved, with many others in the street taking part in the Buffel Grass removal quest.
Bruce helps out at the Alice Springs Community Garden, an Arid Lands Environment Centre initiative and Garden for Wildlife property located in Eastside. The Buffel Grass pulled by Bruce and others is used to create compost for the gardens, but he states that the Buffel can also be placed directly under the base of fruit trees as mulch. He reinstates the suggestion that Buffel Grass removal requires persistence but once the bulk has been removed, maintaining the native verge requires minimal effort.
Buffel Grass seeds wash in from neighbouring areas in the drainage lines and so the recent rains have been a challenge, germinating a host of Buffel seeds along the verge. The native forbs that have returned to the verge, include Variable Daisy (Brachycome ciliaris complex), Woolly Oat Grass (Enneapogon polyphyllus), Erect Kerosene Grass (Aristida holathera) and Golden Everlasting (Xerochrysum bracteatum), among others. These natives provide habitat and foraging space for a range of birds, with birds such as Rainbow Bee-eaters (Merops ornatus) and Sacred Kingfishers (Todiramphus sanctus) calling the street home.
Debbie Page is a keen Buffel Buster with a Land for Wildlife property in Ross, and this made for an inspiring third stop. Debbie is eager to motivate and inspire land owners to remove Buffel on their own properties. She claims that effective Buffel control is about awareness, which Debbie gained through seeking advice from various contacts around Alice Springs. Debbie’s journey to a Buffel-free property came from three catalysts: Land for Wildlife and the technical support provided by the nature conservation program, Rosalie Breen and her efforts spraying Buffel at OLSH in Alice Springs, and some friends in the area, Carmel and David Leonard (also a Land for Wildlife property in the day). With some inspiration from others and the phrase ‘Dream, Believe, Create, Succeed’, she took up the Buffel removal challenge, though found it daunting at first. Debbie doesn’t attempt to convince her neighbours to remove Buffel, though she confesses that she has been known to jump the fence and spray clumps of Buffel in the early hours of the morning, and she can see that they have become Buffel Busters through watching her actions.
Debbie started her Buffel Busting efforts with a small spray pack, Glyphosate 360 and the appropriate safety equipment. Debbie suggested that a small amount of eco-friendly detergent can be placed in the spray pack to act as a surfactant, and Peter Latz added that sulphate ammonia can also be added to increase potency of the mix.
Debbie would find a window of opportunity after rain when the conditions suited spraying and would do an hour or two of spraying in the morning on her two hectare property. She states that the task has taken her four years, but the reward of native birds such as Splendid Fairy-wrens (Malurus splendens) and Quails (Turnix sp.) returning to her block is worth the hard work and she has enjoyed the challenge. Debbie recommends getting in touch with your property and becoming aware of the value that Buffel-removal can provide, as selectively spraying and watching the native understorey returning gives her a sense of accomplishment. Debbie’s property is now home to a huge variety of native grasses, such as Woolly Oat Grass (Enneapogon polyphyllus), Erect Kerosene Grass (Aristida holathera), Wiregrass (Aristida arida), Silky Bluegrass (Dichanthium sericeum subsp. sericeum), Native Millet (Panicum decompositum s.lat.), Silky Browntop (Eulalia aurea), and Curly Wiregrass (Aristida inaequiglumis).
The Buffel Busters Tour of Alice Springs made its way to Ankerre Ankerre, also known as the Coolabah Swamp, in Eastside. Jude Prichard and Alice Springs Landcare Inc has been working to remove Buffel Grass and other natives from the area for approximately four years, with amazing results. The Coolabah population has slowly started regenerating, with a few seedlings becoming established in recent months. They have managed to establish the native flora in the area, which is contributing to a solid seedbank, which they feel they are custodians of for future generations. Jude confirmed that the maintenance effort required is now minimal, so long as the landcare group can remove the plants before they seed.
Jude explained how the large trees were protected from fire as the first strategy and once the main areas had been cleared of Buffel, the location site-lines were opened up to change perception of the area from a wasteland to a place of beauty and significance. She suggests setting goals, with small areas dealt with at a time and expanding from there.
The final stop of the tour was to Olive Pink Botanic Garden, where Doug McDougall showed the participants the hard work that the Green Army team (and other volunteers) had been doing to remove Buffel Grass on Nurse’s Hill. The Buffel Busters in the garden use a bio-friendly food dye in the spray pack so that they can clearly see the areas that have been sprayed to prevent waste of chemical. Visitors to the botanic garden are now met with an array of beautiful flowering native plants, as well as birds, Euros (Macropus robustus) and Black-footed Rock Wallabies (Petrogale lateralis).
Many thanks go to the participants for taking part and to the Buffel Busters for opening your homes and gardens to the eagre Busters-to-be – providing so much inspiration. Thanks go to the Arid Lands Environment Centre for hosting the event and all of the supporters for making the event such a success.
A video of the day is in the making and will be released soon, so you can get up to speed with the inspirational words of the Buffel Busters (Stay posted).
See the Back Roads episode from Hermannsburg to see the Ntaria Junior Rangers at Palm Valley. LFW was there but missed the cut (we are in the background being semi-famous though). Great to support such a great ranger team! Head to ABC iView and *View the Episode.
Claire Treilibs has submitted her PhD thesis and would like to present the results to the Alice springs community on Friday week, Dec 16th at 3.30 at CDU lecture theatre in a talk titled Conservation Ecology of Slater’s Skink. This talk will be of interest to many in the community who may have been part of the broader Slater’s Skink surveys over the last few years.
Nibblies will be provided before and after Claire’s talk and the doors open at 3 pm for the 3.30 talk Refreshments will also be provided at the end of the talk for those who would like to stay and help Claire celebrate her thesis submission.
A sombre aspect of the proceedings will be knowledge of the sudden death of Claire’s well respected supervisor Prof Mike Bull from Flinders University in late November. Mike had supervised several students here over the years and had given a talk here on his beloved pygmy bluetongue lizards.
Land for Wildlife had a huge weekend at the desertSMART EcoFair (organised by the Arid Lands Environment Centre), which is Central Australia’s leading science and sustainability event. The event kicked off on Friday with the Eco-Science Schools Day at Olive Pink Botanic Garden (OPBG), who has been a registered and highly active Land for Wildlife property for nearly ten years.
Costa Georgiadis had the students all revved up for a weekend of learning about science and the environment, linking into National Science Week. Various groups hosted workshops on the day, including Parks and Wildlife Commission NT, Shell Questacon Science Circus, Engineers Without Borders Australia, Alice Springs Town Council and Live & Learn.
Land for Wildlife was joined by four school groups on the day: Araluen Christian College classes seven and nine, Yipirinya class six and various home school students from around the region. The session involved a walk around OPBG to 12 positioned letters (spelling ‘Biodiversity’), where each letter represented an aspect of flora and fauna. For example, the letter ‘V’ stood for variety, where students were asked to see how many species they could find in the vicinity. Upon completion, students rearranged the letters – what a smart bunch!
The weekend was full of EcoFair events and activities, but finished up on Sunday at the Alice Springs Desert Park with the Eco-Markets. Land for Wildlife was there to talk to market-goers about the programme and our current projects. Thanks to ALEC for organising another great event!
Land for Wildlife was invited out to the Ntaria Junior Rangers Camp with the Tjuwanpa Women Rangers last week. The Tjuwanpa Women Rangers care for country, managing fire, feral animals and weeds, at the Finke Gorge National Park. Their aim is to have “Akarkutja Warnka Mabaka Kaltjithika”, which means “older women and younger women all learning together” (ABC). Part of this aim is to work with the Ntaria Junior Rangers and encourage other groups to get involved in teaching the younger generation about the importance of managing country appropriately.
The Ntaria Junior Rangers camped at Palm Valley and the team from ABC Back Roads were there to document their learning journey. Land for Wildlife spoke to the group about the changing world, as part of their current curriculum – covering topics such as extreme weather and human-induced changes to the environment. We were also lucky to have been involved with a story-telling session by a Ntaria ‘Tjilpi‘ the previous night, given in both Arrernte and English.
Rangeland Biology and Ecology Seminars
April 29, Friday, 3.30pm at Charles Darwin University, Lecture Theatre HE, Alice Springs *
The structural and thermal properties of avian cup-shaped nests
Dr Caragh Heenan
Land for Wildlife Coordinator, Low Ecological Services P/L, Alice Springs
Incubation in birds is energetically demanding and the energy invested to maintain egg temperature can influence the outcome of a reproductive event and therefore the lifetime reproductive success of individuals. It is reasonable that heat loss can be minimised by optimising the physical structure and location of the nest. I assessed the structural and thermal properties of nests across 36 species of Australian passerines, assessing variables against parent mass, egg and clutch size, once accounting for phylogenetic relationships. The surface area and volume of the nest cup increases with the surface area and volume of the clutch, as well as the size of the incubating parent. Structural support for the parent and clutch is the primary factor driving nest thickness. A change in nest thickness with the combined mass of the parent and clutch has a direct influence on the conductance of nests, such that structurally adequate nests achieve a lower thermal conductance (higher insulation) than expected, as they increase in size. When exposed to wind or rain, the rate of heat loss from the nest increases, which is likely to have direct consequences on the energetics of the incubating parent. However, birds breeding in warm and wet conditions select materials for nest construction that have a high thermal conductivity to facilitate the nest drying process through rapid evaporation and reduce the overall cost of incubation. This provides confirmation that selecting a sheltered nest site and constructing an appropriate nest to minimise heat loss is important for avian reproductive success.
* Directions: Take the second CDU entrance along Grevillia Drive next to the childcare centre (not the main Centralian college entrance), and go past the old CDU plant nursery. The HE building is straight ahead on the left next to the grape vines and in front of the oval. There is parking in front of the building. The lecture theatre is on the ground floor just inside the doors to the right. Alternate entry to the room for late arrivals is upstairs into the back of the room.