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Saving our Species Update

Issue 2 - November 2014


This update brings you news on all aspects of the Saving our Species program from information on species projects, scientific work, information about threatened species, as well as opportunities to become involved. You’ll also get to meet some of the dedicated thousands of people involved in threatened species management. We invite everyone to share their stories in future updates.

Threatened species riches of Barren Grounds Nature Reserve and Budderoo National Park

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By Sue Luscombe, Office of Environment and Heritage

Ever seen a long-nosed potoroo kissing a giant burrowing frog? National Parks and Wildlife staff, Melinda Norton and Juliet Dingle, captured this image on an infrared camera, one of several set up to monitor the potoroo population in Barren Grounds Nature Reserve and Budderoo National Park.

The image that has captured this unlikely event is even more remarkable given the fact that the cold-blooded giant burrowing frog (Heleioporus australiacus) does not usually trigger infrared cameras, but luckily the long-nosed potoroo (Potorous tridactylus) does, and they may be a bit embarrassed that their intimate encounter was captured on film!

The significant upland heath and swamp areas of Barren Grounds and Budderoo are habitat for stronghold populations of the threatened eastern bristlebird (Dasyornis brachypterus), eastern ground parrot (Pezoporus wallicus) and long-nosed potoroo. The collaborative monitoring and management efforts of OEH staff in the Illawarra region are ensuring the survival of the populations of these important species.

The management of these species, funded in part under the Saving our Species program and Fox Threat Abatement Plan, have significant flow-on benefits for important populations of other threatened species found here, including the spotted-tailed quoll (Dasyurus maculatus), eastern pygmy-possum (Cercatetus nanus), Littlejohn's tree frog (Litoria littlejohni), gang gang cockatoo (Callocephalon fimbriatum) and powerful owl (Ninox strenua). Management of two threatened plant species, the Carrington Falls Grevillea (Grevillea rivularis) and the Carrington Falls Pomaderris (Pomaderris walshii), is also funded under the Saving our Species program.

The results of fauna monitoring feed directly into park management activities, particularly for fire management. Much of the heath in these reserves was last destroyed by fire in 1983, resulting in large areas of important habitat remaining unburnt for more than 30 years. Long-term monitoring programs are contributing to fire management strategies in the fire sensitive heath communities.

Long-nosed potoroo kissing a giant burrowing frog. Photo: NPWS Wild Count Program

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Silver sword lily survey

Silver sword lily(Neoastelia spectabilis). Photo:S Rumming/OEH

By Paul Sheringham, Office of Environment and Heritage

A recent survey of the vulnerable silver sword lily (Neoastelia spectabilis) found that the largest known population of the species occurs in the wild and it answered some concerns about the species’ suspected decline.

The silver sword lily is a very rare, highly distinctive plant known to be found only from a small area at high altitude in New England National Park. It is listed as Vulnerable on both the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

It is a tufted plant that grows up to two metres tall and occurs on precipitously steep slopes, often around waterfalls and along cold, dark creek lines on the edge of the New England Plateau. The silver sword lily has long narrow drooping leaves, in which the upper surface is smooth and green and the under surface is distinctively silver-white. White flowers, clustered on a long central stem appear in spring and early summer and are followed by pale green berries.

The survey for the lily took place in summer and proved challenging because of the precipitous habitat that it occupies. Steep areas that could not be accessed on foot were surveyed remotely using binoculars. Initially, the survey found only three small populations and appeared to confirm concerns about the species low population and apparent decline. Fortunately, a final trip to the last known locality discovered a large population of 400 individuals. This is the largest population of silver sword lily known to occur in the wild.

Dr Copeland, Senior Botanist with EcoLogical Australia, who is an expert in rare and threatened plants, concluded that given the abundance of suitable habitat in the national park, and the relative inaccessibility of much of this steep terrain, it is likely that additional populations exist but are yet to be found.

The species is still very rare and under threat, but discovery of the largest population known provides some security about the persistent existence of the silver sword lily in the wild.

Silver sword lily(Neoastelia spectabilis). (Photo:S Rumming/OEH)


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200 million year old plant thriving in the Blue Mountains

Dwarf mountain pine. Photo G Steenbecke/OEH

By Rueben Fourt-Wells, Office of Environment and Heritage

The most comprehensive survey ever undertaken of the threatened dwarf mountain pine (Pherosphaera fitzgeraldii) has revealed that 755 individual plants are surviving on rocky outcrops in the Upper Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

The extremely rare dwarf mountain pine may once have been a common dinosaur dinner but its modern day remaining population is so small that it is now an endangered species.

The 2014 Dwarf Mountain Pine survey conducted by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), as part of the Saving our Species program, was undertaken to provide a better understanding of the species which has survived for an estimated 200 million years on earth. The survey revealed 44 additional plants in new areas since the last survey in 2004, including two new populations and one expanded population between Wentworth Falls and Katoomba over a range of nine kilometres.

The survey explored hard-to-reach cliff faces and waterfall areas where the survival of the dwarf mountain pine was considered a possibility. The final report is now completed and it provides ten years of growth data across the range, with a helicopter survey of habitats along cliff faces used for the first time.

Normal events such as rock-falls and landslides have affected some sites where the dwarf mountain pine grows, and this was expected over the last ten years, but it also means we need to continue to carefully monitor their survival. The survey provided invaluable data to help OEH identify important sites and actions to reduce the impact of human and invasive species threats to the endangered dwarf mountain pine.

Thanks to the efforts of a group of dedicated volunteers and the Blue Mountains City Council for almost 20 years, the dwarf mountain pine has a chance of surviving well into the future.

Dwarf mountain pine. Photo G Steenbecke/OEH


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Some good news about koalas on the NSW South Coast

Survey assessing koala distribution and abundance in coastal forests of south-eastern NSW. Photo: C Allen/OEH

By Chris Allen, Office of Environment and Heritage

The survey assessing koala distribution and abundance in the coastal forests of south-eastern NSW has achieved the milestone of assessing 1000 grid-sites across 35,000 hectares of national park, state forests and private land. This is probably the largest survey ever undertaken for this species.

At each survey grid-site the litter under 30 trees was searched for evidence of koalas; that’s 30,000 trees that have been searched since the project started in July 2011.

The koala population in this area is important. With a population of between 50–100 koalas, it is the only known koala population in the coastal forests between Newcastle and the Victorian border.

With only 10% of the sites yielding koala evidence the data has been hard-won! Nevertheless the project has been able to highlight key koala areas and has guided the planning for a substantial fuel reduction program undertaken by national parks that has reduced the potential of wildfire impacting on the population.

The project has also been able to demonstrate that koala numbers have increased in recent years, in the core area in Mumbulla. 

The koala is an iconic threatened species whose recovery is being funded under both the Saving our Species program and a separate Australian Government Biodiversity Fund program. 

This survey is one component of the Corridors and Core Habitat for Koalas Project, managed by the South East Ecosystems and Threatened Species Team’s Chris Allen and NPWS Far South Coast Region. 

The survey has also identified key browse species and established the foundations for a monitoring program that can guide many aspects of the management of the population.

Survey assessing koala distribution and abundance in coastal forests of south-eastern NSW. Photo: C Allen/OEH

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Squirrel glider nest boxes - Coal Point Peninsula

Installing nest boxes for squirrel gliders. Photo: S Prichard

By Suzanne Pritchard, Coal Point Progress Association

National Threatened Species Day was celebrated on the Coal Point Peninsula with the installation of 27 nest boxes for squirrel gliders (Petaurus norfolcensis).

The Coal Point Progress Association in conjunction with Lake Macquarie Landcare’s Super Saturday Session hosted the mass installation of nest boxes. Twenty-one locals and landcarers attended the day to hear Dr Chris Mclean, a squirrel glider specialist, describe how people can help the threatened population, and then they went out and did something helpful.

Supporting the local squirrel glider population was as easy as installing nest boxes with suitably small entrance holes (40 mm diameter) to exclude larger possums and birds. The Toronto Men’s Shed cleverly crafted 30 such nest boxes to supplement natural habitat hollows which take over 100 years to form.

Expressions of interest for nest box locations were sought via the local newsletter and twelve local landholders responded. A review of these properties was undertaken prior to the nest box installation day to see if there was enough connectivity to remnant bushland and suitably high trees for squirrel gliders. Three properties didn’t meet the ‘critter criteria’. Alternative nest boxes for birds and larger possums were recommended.

The installation process was guided by a comprehensive risk assessment and nest boxes were installed by two volunteer teams over two hours in the mosaic of public reserves along the vegetated Threlkeld and West Ridge Reserve. The private landholder installation was undertaken by bush-regenerators from Trees In Newcastle.

The nest boxes have the potential to be a great monitoring tool to see how many squirrel gliders are present in the area and an ethics application has been made to allow for monitoring to occur.

The nest box installation was undertaken as part of the Threatened Species Last Stand on the Coal Point Peninsula project funded through the NSW Government’s Environmental Trust. More information about the project can be found at http://coalpointprogress.blogspot.com.au/

Installing nest boxes for squirrel gliders. Photo: S Prichard


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We put the plants in PlantBank

PlantBank supports species conservation. Photo: Royal Botanic Gardens

By Graeme Errington, Jordan Scott & Cathy Offord, Royal Botanic Gardens

The recently completed Australian PlantBank, has significantly expanded the capacity of the New South Wales Government to effectively support species conservation, with the establishment of state-of-the-art seed conservation facilities.

For more than 20 years, staff at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan (part of The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney), have been collecting, storing, growing and researching threatened species from across NSW.

Associated research programs work towards enabling and increasing applied horticultural and plant biology knowledge for conservation activities such as translocations. For many species, seed storage is the most effective and efficient method for maintaining long-term genetic resources. Existing seed collections at PlantBank represent 44% of all NSW flora, including 47% of threatened species.

Not all species are suited to seed banking and the new laboratories, equipment and expanded capacity within PlantBank will enable a variety of alternative options for conserving genetic material. For example, one of the strategies not available to us before PlantBank was completed is cryopreservation. This high-tech alternative, involves the storage of seeds or plant tissue in liquid nitrogen (-196º C) and is being investigated as on option for seeds that are sensitive to drying (many rainforest species) or are short lived (some rainforest and alpine species). The isolation and storage of symbiotic fungi with orchid seed, seed storage longevity and germination requirements of difficult species are some of the other ongoing research activities undertaken at PlantBank.

Australian PlantBank www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/annan/Australian_plantbank
For further information Contact Peter Cuneo, Manager Natural Heritage peter.cuneo@rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au

PlantBank supports species conservation. Photo: Royal Botanic Gardens


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Tawny crevice dragon - A new identity helps prioritise recovery efforts

Tawny crevice dragon. Photo: M Irvin/OEH

By Marc Irvin, Office of Environment and Heritage

When listed as endangered in 2002, the population of the tawny crevice dragon (Ctenophorus decresii) in NSW was thought to be part of a larger population that also occurred over the border in South Australia.

In 2013, genetic and morphological research at the University of Melbourne identified the NSW population of tawny crevice dragons as a new species and renamed it the Barrier Ranges dragon (Ctenophorus mirrityana), as it is only known from parts of the Barrier Ranges north of Broken Hill and in Mutawintji National Park. The schedules of the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 will be updated in due course to reflect this name change.

This colourful, medium-sized dragon can grow up to 265 mm long (snout to the tip of its tail) and lives in rock cracks and crevices. The key threat known to impact the dragon is habitat degradation from feral goat scat accumulating in rock cracks and crevices, which the dragon uses for shelter and breeding. Other threats are likely to include predation by feral cats and foxes.

In the Barrier Ranges, fencing and trap infrastructure have been installed to help control goats as part of a 15-year agreement with the landholder.

Current population estimates suggest that there are only a few hundred individuals from both the Barrier Ranges and Mutawintji sites, however the data set is small at this stage and the number could be higher. Ongoing surveys at both sites will monitor dragon numbers and recruitment, and in response to goat control, habitat monitoring in the Barrier Ranges will continue.

A better understanding of the Barrier Ranges dragon, its habitat preferences, and threats impacting its survival are vitally important to ensure that it persists in the wild for future generations.

Tawny crevice dragon. Photo: M Irvin/OEH

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In the spotlight: Wendy Grimm

The endangered Bauer's Midge orchid (Genoplesium bauera). Photo: W Grimm

Wendy Grimm is the Secretary of the Australian Plants Society (APS) – North Shore Group as well as the Frog and Tadpole Study Group of NSW.

Wendy has been volunteering in her community for over 30 years and is particularly passionate about native plants. Wendy has a background as a career scientist, and an inquiring manner that has led her to monitoring the endangered Bauer’s Midge Orchid (Genoplesium baueri).  After locating one population at Mt Colah, as not much was known about the species, she decided she would search for the orchid in the Ku-ring-gai Wildlife Gardens and subsequently discovered a new population. She is now monitoring 3 sub-populations at the Gardens in addition to the Mt Colah site and has been doing this for the last 6 years.

One of her favourite parts of her role with the APS is meeting lots of people and educating them about plants. Wendy is particularly enthusiastic about the Walks & Talks programs the Branch holds on a weekly basis during the school term at the Ku-ring-gai Wildlife Gardens in St Ives. During these sessions, people learn about a particular family of flora occurring in the Sydney region (and they cover all 6 major families) and then walk through the gardens learning how to identify them.

Wendy strongly believes that to protect our threatened species, we need to further educate the public about local plants and encourage local groups to look after their threatened species. She encourages people to join their local Australian Plant Society branch, or Landcare  or Bushcare and to take part in national park working bees. In Wendy’s words: 'Each person should be the champion of the more vulnerable plants in their own area'.

The endangered Bauer

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Page last updated: 07 May 2015

What's new

The Wollemi Pine to be the 5th iconic species. Environment Minister Rob Stokes and Blue Mountains MP Roza Sage marked the 20-year anniversary of the discovery of the Wollemi Pine by declaring it as the state’s fifth 'iconic' species and first 'iconic' plant species under the Saving our Species Program.

Environmental Trust Saving our Species Partnership Grants program. Successful applicants from  Round 1 of the $10 million grant program will be invited to prepare full project business plans in November 2014. It is expected that Round 2 will be announced in July 2015.
Saving Our Species Partnership Grants Program.

Response to comments. Submissions to the amendments to the NSW Threatened Species Priority Action Statement and the Saving our Species Program closed in February 2014. 15 submissions were received from public authorities, conservation groups and the community. A submissions report is now available.

Featured species

Little tern on nest. Photo: A Brown

Common name: Little tern

Scientific name: Sternula albifrons

Conservation status in NSW: Endangered

Breeds in small colonies on sandy shores along the NSW coast during spring and summer

More information on the little tern