Habitat Linkages in the Southern Atherton Tablelands

Global Restoration Network

Introduction

Project Goals

Planning

Summary of Stakeholder Involvement

Achievements

Social and Cultural Benefits

Lessons Learned

Take home message

References


Introduction

This project involves the re-establishment of three habitat linkages in a wet tropical environment using an ecological restoration approach. The restoration projects have been established in the Wet Tropics bioregion of far north Queensland, known for its very high levels of biodiversity and endemism, and the highly fragmented nature of its predominately rain forest vegetation. The habitat linkages - Lakes, Donaghy's and Peterson Creek - were conceived as a potential response to issues of land degradation, localised species extinctions and patch isolation (Bennett 1999, Tucker et al 2004). All three projects traverse the private lands (Map 1) which surround three rain forest reserves; Lake Eacham (466ha) and Lake Barrine (465ha), collectively forming the Crater Lakes National Park, and the Curtain Fig National Park (303ha). Each of these reserves is located between 1km and 10kms from Wooroonooran National Park, one of the largest blocks of intact forest within the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA). By inter-connecting each reserve, and having linkage into Wooroonooran, ecological connectivity would be increased across this unit of the landscape.

The Lakes Habitat Linkage (Map 2) was completed by the North Johnstone and Lake Eacham Landcare Association with assistance from the Tablelands Regional Council, volunteers from the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers, and landholders. The Donaghy's (Map 3) and Peterson Creek (Map 4) Habitat Linkage projects are jointly undertaken by Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands Inc (TREAT) and Qld Parks and Wildlife - Restoration Services (QPW). Because local restoration expertise and community and landholder support are sufficiently high, these projects have received on-going support from funding agencies. The Lakes and Donaghy's Habitat Linkages have been completed and the Peterson Creek project is 80% complete. The restored vegetation representing Donaghy's Habitat Linkage is now permanently protected through a Nature Refuge declaration with landholders whose properties comprise the linkage.

Monitoring is a difficult and resource demanding activity, but a feature of these projects has been the monitoring effort applied at the Donaghy's and Peterson Creek projects. The Donaghy's site in particular has been extensively studied, these studies being informed by extensive base-line sampling prior to restoration works, to provide rigorous data on re-colonisation by at least a subset of life forms. This data collection, and subsequent monitoring, was undertaken in a framework of adaptive management rather than hypothesis testing because the project is not able to be replicated in a form which controls landscape variability. No monitoring was undertaken within the Lakes Habitat Linkage, although similar rates of colonisation and movement should have occurred within this linkage.

Monitoring has demonstrated colonisation and movement by a range of life forms and species. Mammals, birds and plants were most extensively studied, prior to any commencement of works, and during and after works. Results show that a successional trajectory toward increasing species diversity and a self-sustaining community is generally in place at all sites.

Project Goals

These projects have three main aims, and a number of secondary aims;

  1. To re-establish a series of habitat linkages internally linking three WTWHA fragments (each of 300 - 500ha), and linking each to the adjacent Wooroonooran National Park (80,000ha), also part of the WTWHA (see Map 1);
  2. To re-establish the original pre-European rain forest vegetation type in each linkage's area, including 'Mabi Forest' a Commonwealth and State listed 'Endangered' vegetation community of which less than 2% remains, and endangered, vulnerable and rare plants that are known from all the vegetation communities within the area;
  3. To monitor the effectiveness of restored habitat linkages;
  4. To re-establish riparian vegetation for soil stability (requiring the exclusion of stock from waterways and installation of off-stream watering points), and
  5. To provide shade and wind breaks for stock.

Planning

Site Details

Site NameTenuresCo-ordinates
(central corridor location)
Start date
Lakes Habitat LinkagePrivate Freehold17°16'04.00"S 145°38'25.33"E 1997
Donaghy's Habitat LinkagePrivate Freehold17°15"22.94"S 145°39'07.99"E1995
Peterson Creek Habitat LinkagePrivate Freehold17°17'31.53"S 145°33'36.02"E1998

Regional Ecosystems on which the restoration is modelled

(reference sites for each exist in the local area)

Lakes Habitat Linkage7.8.2 Complex notophyll to mesophyll vine forest of high rainfall, cloudy uplands on basalt
Donaghy's Habitat Linkage7.8.2 Complex notophyll to mesophyll vine forest of high rainfall, cloudy uplands on basalt
Peterson Creek Habitat Linkage7.3.2 Grasslands and sedgelands ± Melaleuca spp., of wetlands within volcanic craters, often on peat
7.3.19 Corymbia intermedia or C. tessellaris ± Eucalyptus tereticornis open forest (or vine forest with these species as emergents), on well drained alluvium
7.3.39 Eucalyptus tereticornis ± E. platyphylla ± Corymbia intermedia ± Lophostemon suaveolens open woodland to open forest, and associated sedgelands and grasslands, on broad drainage depressions of uplands
7.8.2 Complex notophyll to mesophyll vine forest of high rainfall, cloudy uplands on basalt
7.8.3 Complex semi-evergreen notophyll vine forest of uplands on basalt (Mabi Forest)
7.8.7 Eucalyptus tereticornis open forest, and associated grasslands, predominantly on basalt uplands
7.11.12 Simple notophyll vine forest of moist to very wet metamorphic uplands and highlands

Plans and Goals

Area Iconic Faunal and Floral Species

SpeciesStatus
Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii)Endangered
Lumholtz's Tree Kangaroo (Dendrolagus lumholtzi)Endemic
Musky Rat Kangaroo (Hypsiprimnodon moschatus)Endemic
Atherton Sauropus (Sauropus macranthus)Vulnerable
Bull Kauri (Agathis microstachya)Endemic
Lacewood (Firmiana papuana)Rare

Strategies for Restoration / Methodologies

Summary of Stakeholder Involvement

StakeholderInvolvement
Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands Inc. (TREAT)Technical support, plant production, tree planting and monitoring assistance
Queensland Parks and Wildlife - Restoration ServicesTechnical support, project management, plant supply, site preparation, maintenance and site monitoring
Tablelands Community Revegetation UnitTechnical support, plant supply, site supervision and contract labour
North Johnstone and Lake Eacham Landcare AssociationSite preparation, tree planting and maintenance
Department of Primary Industries and ForestryTechnical support and labour, plant supply
James Cook University
UCLA Berkeley
University of Qld
Griffith University
Monitoring and technical support
Land holders (in excess of 25)Provision of planting sites, assistance with planting and maintenance, covenant agreements

Achievements

Site NameArea (ha)Number of Seedlings PlantedNumber of Species PlantedBudget (incl In-Kind)
Lakes Habitat Linkage1637,00045$415,000
Donaghy's Habitat Linkage1620,000103$190,000
Peterson Creek Habitat Linkage1558,000
(as at 12/08)
120$600,000

The plantings all established successfully and have reached a point of canopy closure, with structural development of most of the long-treated sites now equating with Phase V of a six-phase rainforest recovery typology developed by Hopkins et al. (adapted by Winter et al. 1991).

In addition to the achievements related to actual on-ground revegetation, research and monitoring showed a number of ecological outcomes that relate to the project's aim to reinstate connectivity. Some of these have been published within peer reviewed literature, other work appears within grey literature and other results remain unpublished. These results show colonisation by a range of life forms and species, and also showed how the composition of plant and animal communities changed over time within the developing linkages. A summary of peer reviewed material and grey literature is provided below:

Social and Cultural Benefits

These projects have provided a range of other benefits. The community engagement process has resulted in the mobilisation of a significant volunteer effort. Volunteers are well supported by government agencies and research organisations. The links established between researchers and community has increased understanding of ecological connectivity, and in particular the role of private lands in increasing landscape permeability. The numbers of landholders engaged in the process has increased in line with progressive catchment rehabilitation. The input of key landholders is crucial to successful outcomes. This input varies across landholders but includes;

Community awareness of threatened species management has benefited from a target species approach, using local icons such as Cassowaries and Tree-kangaroos to encourage support for habitat plantings in linkage configurations. Moreover, there is now significant community awareness of the concept of threatened ecological communities, resulting from the listing of local Mabi Forest as a 'Critically Endangered' vegetation community by the Commonwealth government. This engagement has extended to local indigenous groups who are now involved in many facets of the restoration process.

Site NameYearsFunding (Cash)Funding (In-Kind)Volunteer Hours
Lakes Habitat Linkage1998 - 2008$55,000$360,00014,000
Donaghy's Habitat Linkage1995 - 1998$40,000$150,0002,500
Peterson Creek Habitat Linkage1998 - 2008$300,000$300,00010,000

Lessons Learned

Take home message

Land managers require a range of practical tools to assist with the myriad of problems associated with forest fragmentation. Restoring ecological connectivity through habitat linkages is one tool. Its utility is demonstrated at one location, although habitat development at the other two sites appears to be on a similar trajectory. Adaptive management projects such as these provide ideal opportunities for practitioners, researchers and managers to learn from the ecological response to restoration, and their replication will strengthen our conceptual understanding.

References

Bennett, A. F. (1999) Linkages in the Landscape: The role of corridors and connectivity in wildlife conservation. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge.

Freeman, A. N. D. and Seebrook, L. S. (2006) Increase in Riparian Vegetation along Peterson Creek, North Queensland 1938-2004. Ecological Management and Restoration 7:1 pp. 63-65

Grant, B. (2002) Vegetation recruitment in restoration plantings along the Peterson Creek Habitat Linkage. Unpublished report to QPWS Centre of Tropical Restoration, Lake Eacham

Grove, S.J and Tucker, N.I.J. (2000). The role of dead wood in forest restoration and management: What can insects tell us? Ecological Management and Restoration 1:1 pp. 63-65.

Goosem, S.P and Tucker, N.I.J. (1995) Repairing the Rainforest. Theory and Practice of Rainforest Re-establishment in North Queensland's Wet Tropics. Wet Tropics Management Authority. Cairns.

Jansen, A. (2005) Avian use of restoration plantings along a creek linking rainforest patches on the Atherton Tablelands, North Queensland. Restoration Ecology 13: 275-283

Simmons, T. M. and Tucker, N. I. J. (2002) The rat's tale - use of small mammals as bioindicators in a restored forest linkage in far north Queensland. In: Ecology 2002: Handbook of the 2nd Joint Meeting of the Ecological Society of Australia Inc., and the New Zealand Ecological Society Inc. (Ed J. Landsberg). pp.141 Cairns, Australia.

Tucker, N.I.J. (2000) Monitoring and evaluation at Donaghy's wildlife corridor: Measures used and questions asked. Ecological Management and Restoration 1:1 pp. 61-62.

Tucker, N.I.J. (2001) Wildlife colonization on restored tropical lands: What can it do, how can we hasten it and what can we expect? In: Forest Restoration for Wildlife Conservation (Eds S. Elliott, J. Kerby, D. Blakesley, K. Hardwicke, K. Woods and V. Anusarnsunthorn) International Tropical Timber Organisation and the Forest Restoration Research Unit. Chiang Mai University, Thailand, pp 279-294.

Tucker, N.I.J (2002) Vegetation recruitment in a restored habitat linkage in the Wet Tropics of north-eastern Qld. MSc Thesis. James Cook University, Cairns.

Tucker, N.I.J., Wardell-Johnson, G., Catterall, C.P and Kanowski, J. (2004) Agroforestry and biodiversity: Improving the outcomes for conservation in tropical north-eastern Australia. In: Tropical biodiversity and the role of agroforestry. (Eds G. Scroth, C. Gascon, I.M.N Izac, and C. Harvey) Island Press. Washington, D.C, pp 431-452

Winter, J.W., Atherton, R.G., Bell, F.C. and Pahl, L.I. (1991) Rainforest dynamics, disturbance and alienation in northern Queensland. In: The rainforest legacy: Australian National Rainforests Study, Volume 3 Rainforest History, Dynamics and Management. (Eds G. Werren and P. Kershaw) Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, pp 107-137.

Contact Information

The President
TREAT Inc.
PO Box 1119,
Atherton Queensland 4883

Global Restoration Network Website

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