Echidna - closeup of spines Credit: Grant Dixon
In February 2012 our newly protected Skullbone Plains Reserve hosted a team of nearly 20 scientists from museums, herbariums, universities and botanical gardens throughout Australia as part of the Bush Blitz program.This was a tremendous opportunity, never before undertaken at Skullbone Plains to this degree, to perform high intensity, low impact ecological surveying to discover even more treasures.
The scientists took 550 specimens for analysis and their detailed work will continue over the coming year, culminating in a substantial scientfic report. As part of the team, Nick Mooney (Parks and Wildlife Service, retired), Dr Sally Bryant and Matt Taylor (both from the TLC) took responsibility for the vertebrate fauna survey and their preliminary results are now complete. Information for the vertebrate fauna survey was obtained from a number of sources including theTasmanian Natural Values Atlas and sightings between 2010 and 2011 by TLC staff and other specialists, in addition to the species recorded during the Bush Blitz survey program. This initial report details the number of species identified during the survey period, including 14 mammal, 44 bird, eight reptile and three amphibian.The distribution of Tasmania’s fauna is determined largely by its humid climate which transitions from wet and cold inthe west, to warm and dry in the east.This climatic gradient is modified by geology which, in turn, regulates broad vegetation complexes and hence habitat and food availability. Due to local differences in altitude, rainfall, temperature, aspect, soil-type, etc, micro-habitats provide a range of niches favoured by certain types of fauna.
To accurately reflect the diverse vegetation types found on the 1647 ha Skullbone Plains Reserve, seven fauna survey sites were selected covering freshwater wetlands, sphagnum peatland to highland grassy sedgeland, Eucalyptus gunnii woodland, E.delegatensis dry forest, eastern alpine heath and E. coccifera forest. The three basic survey techniques used in the 2012 survey for mammals, reptiles and amphibians were camera traps, hair tubes and incidental observations. Additionally, a two-hectare search methodology recommended by BirdLife Australia for the Atlas of Australian Birds project was employed for the avifauna survey. This involved recording all bird species by sight and call within a two hectare search zone over a 20 minute survey period.
Bush Blitz is a biodiversity discovery partnership between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia that aims to document the plants and animals across Australia’s National Reserve System.
For further information on the Skullbone Plains surveys visit Parks Australia
Over the coming months we will continue to publish the updates and outcomes from this exciting project. Thank you to all involved.
Wombat at Skullbone Plains Credit Andy Townsend
Of the 14 mammals recorded during the survey period, two new species - the endemic long-tailed mouse (Pseudomys higginsii) and the swamp rat (Rattus luttreolus) were photographed.
Some large species were very widespread, notably the short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harissii), eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus), common wombat (Vombatis ursinus) and common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecular).
Other species were more restricted in range but appeared locally abundant. One adult male Tasmanian devil caught on camera, appeared to have a small, raised, open lesion on its chin. This apparent record of the Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) is not new, the disease being long confirmed from the area by state government biologists. Although Tasmanian devils are thought to have decreased in the area by about 80 per cent since a decade ago due to DFTD, they are still widespread and appear to be covering the landscape.
Interestingly, only sparse evidence of rabbit, feral cat and fallow deer was recorded.
Tasmania’s avifauna is well known and comprises over 220 resident and migratory bird species. Surveys undertaken at Skullbone Plains prior and during Bush Blitz recorded 44 bird species. This number is likely to increase as more surveys are undertaken during the spring period when many migrants have returned to the reserve to breed.
Of the 44 species recorded, nine are endemic and three, the wedge-tailed eagle (Aquila audax), grey goshawk (Accipiter novaehollandiae) and masked owl (Tytonovaehollandiae castanops), are listed on state or commonwealth threatened species legislation.
Pacific black duck Credit Andy Townsend
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