A Serious Threat to Our Fauna

A Serious Threat to Our Fauna

What is the most under-rated threat to Australia’s native wildlife? Sure, we know about foxes, cats, wild dogs, weeds, habitat fragmentation and even climate change … the list goes on and on, but a serious threat that we don’t consider for the significant threat that it is, is ourselves in a vehicle!

Just in the last month, 100’s of possums, bandicoots, wallabies and many more of our native wildlife’s lives have been cut short on the roads around the range, as our speedy convenience of getting from A to B meets the more easy going pace that the rest of nature follows, with often messy results…

Fortunately (not sure if that’s the right word) this level of carnage seems to only occur for a short period every year. Perhaps it’s because there’s tastier grass to be found on the roadside (late winter), perhaps it’s mating season and animals are travelling further and crossing more roads, perhaps it’s down to us driving a bit crazier in spring! A bit of speculation perhaps, but either way the result appears to be an increased death toll, as the weather warms up.

The problem for the driver like yourself is that the wildlife can appear to want to be hit… There you are, minding your own business, zooming along a picturesque country road and see a wallaby crossing the road, you may slow down a bit, but accelerate again as it jumps to leave the road. However at the last minute the wallaby hooks back across in front of you and hey presto, there’s a dint in your bumper and a dying wallaby on the road. Why? Put simply the dodge, weave and back track technique has worked well for the wallaby in evading predators for millions of years of evolution and worked perfectly fine against dingo (and before that the thylacine), however the speed , size and weight of our vehicles is something wild animals have little or no defence against.

The only way we can try and reduced the road carnage is through your awareness of where there may be wild animals on the roadside and also that they may irrationally jump out in front of you! I know there are some special individuals who swerve to hit animals on purpose, but for the rest of us, if we drive according to conditions and reduce our speed in bushland areas, we can try and reduce the road toll. However if you do hit an animal and it requires medical assistance, contact the Australia Zoo wildlife Hospital 1300 369 652.

A Decade of Myrtle Rust

A Decade of Myrtle Rust

With Spencer Shaw

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of Myrtle Rust being brought into Australia. Note that I say “brought into” Australia, as the terminology usually used is “arrived” or “was first detected”. The latter could be taken as inferring that Myrtle Rust arrived in Australia all by itself. This is clearly not the case; Myrtle rust was brought into the country as result of the global trade and travel networks of human activity. We brought it here and we also need to be the ones responsible for preserving the amazing species diversity of Myrtaceae that has evolved in this land and is now threatened by Myrtle Rust.

So just how are we going to preserve the diversity of Myrtaceae in Australia? I can only speak of our personal experiences in observing the life cycles and propagation of our local Myrtaceae in SE QLD, but I think we are onto something. And that is, that preserving species that are threatened by Myrtle Rust, can be tackled at a grass roots level (or at least at a tree and shrub level – pardon the pun), through the work of nurseries propagating Myrtle Rust resistant plants.

Back in 2011, when Myrtle Rust arrived in SE QLD, you could have been forgiven for thinking that nurseries were the only source of Myrtle Rust and that going near a nursery was potentially dangerous to you own health!  Sure, nurseries could potentially speed the spread of Myrtle Rust due to interstate plant transport, but once established in NSW it was only a matter of time before trillions of microscopic spores blew across the landscape and spread rapidly to colonise whole new areas. To try and stem the tide, Biosecurity then quarantined a few nurseries, but the horse was well and truly bolted. Overnight the Myrtle name was tarnished, as the fear of Myrtle Rust spread. Some production nurseries disposed of all their Myrtaceae stock rather than trying to manage the disease, as the potential damage to their business from growing Myrtaceae outweighed the cost of throwing them all away. For those who persisted with growing Myrtaceae fungicide regimes became compulsory – although I’d argue that they mask the problem rather that treating it. What I’m trying to get to, in a an albeit circuitous way, is that nurseries were perceived as the problem, when in fact I believe that nurseries and horticulturalists (native ones in particular) have the tools to help assist in preserving the Myrtaceae species that are under threat.

Luckily in Australia, Myrtle Rust has yet to have a significant impact on the dominant tree and shrubs of our woodlands e.g. Eucalypts, Corymbia, Angophora, Lophostemon, Melaleuca, Leptospermum (although locally on the Sunshine Coast we have observed some impacts on Melaleuca quinquenervia).However, many of our rainforest Myrtaceae have been significantly affected. These include Gossia spp, Lenwebbia spp, Rhodamnia sppBackhousia spp. Rhodomyrtus psidioides, Uromyrtus lamingtonensis, Decaspermum humile, Archirhodomyrtus beckleri and Acmena smithii. These species have been affected to varying degrees, with populations and individuals within species showing variable degrees of susceptibility. Species such as Rhodomyrtus psidioides are bordering on functionally extinct, with the majority of individuals struggling to maintain foliage, let alone produce flowers or fruit. At the other end of the spectrum, species such as Austromyrtus dulcis and Acmena smithii (which have only shown susceptibility over the last few years) only appear to be affected under irrigation in nurseries and not affected (at least as much) when planted.

Personally, given nearly 10 years of  observations of Myrtle Rust and its impacts on our flora, I believe the only real hope for assisting in the preservation of Myrtaceae species that have demonstrated that they are vulnerable, is to assist those individuals and populations within a species that are demonstrating resistance and resilience. We (nurseries, horticulturalists, nature lovers in general) can assist these species by actively searching for, identifying and then propagating and cultivating those individuals. This cultivation whether it be in gardens, farms or revegetation projects will then assist their resistant and resilient genes to spread through their populations. Resistance to Myrtle Rust does appear to varying degrees within the species listed above. For example, in Acmena smithii vulnerability appears to be the exception, but Archirhodomyrtus beckleri is about 50/50 in our area. Our cultivated Rhodamnia dumicola and Gossia acmenoides can keep good leaf cover but are yet to produce viable fruit. Rhodomyrtus psidioides, which as mentioned before, appears to have very limited resistance across the majority of its population is really struggling.

Species that we have personally had success with so far include Decaspermum humile and Lenwebbia sp. blackall range, both of which we have selected and propagated from resistant individuals. We’re also working on a few Rhodamnia spp. – so fingers crossed there too! Another observation we’ve made is that if plants that have been affected by Myrtle Rust and can be nurtured to produce flower, fruit and then seed, then the resulting seedlings appear to be more resistant than their known parent.

Nearly 10 years on, there is still talk about addressing Myrtle Rust on a national level and mainly just that – talk. Cynical as I am (usually) I don’t rule out how much we could be doing on a national level including: stopping the next “myrtle rust” type disease from being brought into the country; co-ordinating on a national or at least state level work with nurseries to select and breed myrtle rust resistant stock; and perhaps given the potential resources federally we could do the research that can help understand resistant genetics and maybe genetically engineer resistance into species that we would otherwise lose.

For the time being, however, the real action is taking place out in the bush as evolutionary processes select those individuals that are resistant Myrtle Rust to survive and reproduce. The best that we can do for now is get behind nurseries and horticulturalists who are passionate about our native flora. They are the front line in preserving our vulnerable Myrtaceae species. For 10 years we’ve seen major impacts to our rainforest ecosystems through the damage to Myrtaceae species and the loss of flowering and fruiting abundance they provided for our fauna, let’s hope we can improve that situation somewhat over the next 10 years…

Go Wild (in your garden)!

Go Wild (in your garden)!

With Spencer Shaw

If the extent of your interest in gardening is the perfect lawn and an immaculately pruned hedge (probably Mock Orange), then this article is probably not for you. That said, I aim for inclusiveness in my approach so bear with me and we’ll see if we can’t find some common ground and if not then hopefully some light entertainment.

Human beings are beings of nature, we enjoy interaction with the natural world. Although culturally some humans (unfortunately most) draw a line between humans and all the rest of life on earth, the fact remains that biologically and ecologically we are all part of life on earth. We’re inspired and in awe of areas of natural beauty, we enjoy watching other animals, we enjoy growing things, gardening & bushwalking. All these things make us happier, healthier and intrinsically content.

So, my thoughts naturally ramble in the direction of co-operation and sharing when it comes to the other life forms we are blessed to share this earth with. In our gardens, our green dominions, those areas that we can rule over with an iron fist (or at least an assorted blend of steel, alloy and plastic tools) and shape as is our whim into a series of monoculture, monotonous, monospecific, mediocre (and a legion of other words starting with m) manicured lawns and shrubs. These gardens, at best require constant intervention of labour, machine and chemical to maintain this level of morose mediocrity and at worst are functionally green deserts. We can do all this, or, we can get a little bit wild.

Getting a bit Wild in the garden, can take all sorts of forms, but the most crucial element is increasing the range of plants, in both species diversity and form. Ideally you would use as a great range of local native plants that reflect those that naturally occur in your area and provide food and resources for local wildlife. This unfortunately means sticking with local native plants of SE QLD and limits you to a mere 3500 native plant species…. although some could argue that’s a reasonable palette from which to select!

Other valuable elements to getting a little bit wild include: Mulch – use natural leaf litter, living mulches (groundcovers), rockpiles and logs; Question Your Chemical Use – insecticides & rodenticides may be useful short-term solutions to pest damage, but they are poisons that kill other wildlife and could end up in your food! Habitat – nest boxes, rocks, dead trees provide valuable homes.

The wilding of your garden is generous, creative and sharing. It reduces financial and physical inputs over time and the rewards, well they tweet for themselves!

Not all small furry creatures are rats! Don’t poison the wildlife.

Not all small furry creatures are rats! Don’t poison the wildlife.

with Spencer Shaw

Small furry creatures with sharp teeth, claws and beady little eyes get a lot of bad press in our culture, thanks to the feral rats that have followed us across the planet. However, we also have many native rodents and other small furry creatures that play important roles in our ecosystems.

The Bush Rat Rattus fuscipes can be found in our forests and heathlands and is a cute and timid – although they can still give you a nip when cornered! They feed on native fruits and seeds and help disperse native plants. Also found in our area are the amazing Antechinus.  Antechinus are not rodents at all but small carnivorous marsupials, high energy predators that have short life spans, especially the poor males, who live for 9 months before going out in a blaze of glory after exhausting all their energy in the mating season.

All our small mammals are prey for larger fauna, which brings me to the delicate issue of rodent control. Please consider carefully when deciding how to control those annoying little critters that are scratching in your ceiling. Many rat poisons, particularly the systemic poisons (they don’t just kill the rats but also the animals that eat the poisoned rats such as) are dangerous to other animals. Victims can include Owls, Tawny Frog Mouths, Carpet Snakes and Quolls to name a few. Snap Traps are brutal but effective with no chance of killing the predators listed above. If you think you might have Antechinus instead of introduced mice, use a Live Trap to catch them, then release outside. If however, you do have an Antechinus in your house and can tolerate them (they can stretch the friendship at times), you will never have a mouse or cockroach problem again!

So remember, next time you are jumping onto the table as a small furry creature scurries by, it may just be a friendly local and not necessarily a “dirty rat”!

Focus on Flora: Cunjevoi –  Alocasia brisbanensis

Focus on Flora: Cunjevoi – Alocasia brisbanensis

With Spencer Shaw

Large lush deep green leaves of Cunjevoi add a tropical twist to the landscape and this particular plant fits into this category. Our largest local member of the Arum Family   ARACEAE, this fleshy herb grows to between one and one and a half metres high on the Sunshine Coast, with large leaves up to half a metre long. Being this big and lush   requires  plenty of moisture and if not shade then certainly protection from wind and its drying effects, hence it is often found along slow moving creeks, shady wetlands and   generally in rainforests.

There’s a story about that I often see referred to, that traditional Indigenous medicine advocates it as a cure for Stinging Tree Dendrocnide spp stings, however this may be ok if   you are a skilled practitioner of Indigenous medicine (but most of us aren’t) and the sap can be very irritating on its own – may just take the edge of the Stinging Tree by causing its   own inflammation! I’ve witnessed a very severe reaction to the sap from the leaves on a fellow Bush Regenerator and after witnessing that experience, give me Stinging Tree any   day!  Do not put any raw part of the plant in your mouth as it contains potent irritants that can cause swelling of your throat – not good.

Now you’re all scared and taking a wide berth of Cunjevoi in the bush – just in case it attacks you, let’s focus on the positive. The tall white / cream / green arum flowers are very   nicely perfumed to us and are insect attracting and pollinated. The flowers are followed by clustered bright red fruit, which given everything else I’ve said about this plant – do not   eat them, just for the birds!  They are a great plant for boggy shady areas, one of the few local plants that really thrive in these conditions.

Cunjevoi’s heart shaped leaves will always have a special place in my heart, and are an essential part of the understorey in the very moist sections of rainforests.

I’ve lost my heart to “Bleeding Hearts”

I’ve lost my heart to “Bleeding Hearts”

With Spencer Shaw

Bleeding Heart Homalanthus populifolius

Sometimes a plant can be so common in your field of view that it’s easy to miss its significance and importance to ecosystems, it can so much a part of the landscape and so self sustaining that it can be forgotten in favour of all the rare and threatened plants and those things that are hard to grow, and so it is with your common run of the mill Homalanthus populifolius!

Homalanthus populifolius syn: Homalanthus nutans, Omalanthus populifolius has had a few name changes over the last few decades (just to keep us on our toes) and is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family, a very large Family of plants spread across the globe. It is dioecious – separate male and female plants.

This species is one of those ridiculously fast growing plants that kicks starts ecosystem change by colonising open ground, wether that be an opening in the forest, along roadsides, disturbed edges (and at our place just about anywhere and everywhere).  Favoured germination conditions are open ground with high light levels and reasonable moisture holding capacity in the soil. From seedling to mature and fruiting could be as little as 18-24 months. In open conditions they become a small tree up to 5-7 metres, but I have seen a few spectacular specimens topping 10 metres in lowland rainforest.

As for kick starting ecosystem change, within 24 months you can have a deep leaf litter providing shelter and habitat for macro invertebrates and all those critters that eat them; they are a tree that is often as wide as tall, providing shade and humidity for secondary rainforest plants to recruit; the fruit of Homalanthus populifolius is highly sort after by birds (particularly the Brown Cuckoo Dove Macropygia amboinensis on our property), who readily spread seed.

I love Homalanthus, it’s hard to imagine a rainforest planting being successful without them. They are our ultimate rainforest pioneer species and well worth planting – that is if they aren’t popping up by themselves!