Remnant Bushland Area Plays A Key Role As Native Habitat In Pine Plantations.

August 20, 1999 Tumut & Adelong Times

A patchwork of remnant native vegetation within pine plantations is proving to be an important source of habitat for a range of native birds and animals in the Tumut region, according to the results of summer field surveys by the Australian National University (ANU).

Patches of remnant native vegetation constitute more than one third of the total area of State Forests' pine plantations in the Tumut region.

A recent study by ANU researchers Mr. Craig Tribolet and Mr. Chris MacGregor has focused on remnant box woodlands in and around newly established State Forests' pine plantation at Nanangroe near Adjungbilly.

"Results were excellent, with more than 100 bird species, a range of small mammals, possums and reptiles all recorded during the five months of intensive survey," Mr. Tribolet said.

He said a wide variety of bird species were recorded, ranging from woodland birds such as the Restless Flycatcher and the Brown Treecreeper, to rarer species like the Brown Goshawk and Masked Owl.

Mr. Tribolet said trapping work indicated native ground mammals have been using remnant patches, while reptile work later in the year, is also expected to produce some interesting results.

He said early results from spotlighting work indicate the importance of White Box (Eucalyptus albens) in the area.

The Nanangroe study directed by Dr. David Lindenmayer from the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies and the Department of Geography at ANU, represents an extension of an ongoing remnant vegetation experiment, based in the large softwood plantations north of Tumut.

Initial work, focused on established pine forest, investigated the size and shape of remnant patches and their use by native animals like the Marsupial Mouse (Antechinus), Bush Rat and extensive work on Greater Gliders.

Mr. Tribolet said results indicate that remnant vegetation is an important source of habitat for a range of native animals and birds 52; dependent on size, floristic structure and position in the landscape.

"The success of this long-term study relies on the assistance of State Forests' staff and their interest in managing a softwood resource for a range of values" he said.

State Forests moved towards purchasing cleared farmland in the 1980's and increasingly to joint ventures with farmers in recent years. This has allowed strategically located remnant native vegetation to he protected and regenerated with a reduction in grazing pressure.

More than 30,000 hectares of native vegetation have been retained within 87,000 hectares of State Forests' pine plantation in the Hume Region. Across the State, State Forests has left approximately 68,600 hectares of native vegetation in its softwood plantations.

Mr. Tribolet said the local community also plays an important part in the study. Of the 140 sites 52; more than 50 are in remnant woodland on private property neighbouring the new plantation areas.

"Landholders, all of whom are actively involved in local landcare groups, have proved to be enthusiastic and very interested participants," he said.

Mr. Tribolet said the current study is investigating changes that occur over time in remnant native vegetation sites integrated with plantations trees, where grazing has been removed as part of normal plantation establishment management.

"An increasing focus on previously cleared grazing land as a source of softwood plantation means that the results of this work are an immensely important source of information for future plantation design," he said.

Genetic comparisons first of the type in the world.

As part of ANU's research into the effects on native fauna in local pine plantations and eucalyptus forest namely the Buccleuch and Nanangroe Forests, Tumut based scientists Chris MacGregor and Craig Tribolet have been permanently engaged over the past year to trap (and then release) native animals for scientific studies enable testing to take place.

The Tumut based researchers were joined last week by the team's leader, Dr. David Lindenmayer from the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies and the Department of Geography at ANU, Dr. Karen Viggers, wildlife veterinarian, along with scientist Matthew Pope.

On Wednesday when "The Times" visited the research centre, which is accommodated at the State Forests' buildings in Sydney Street, Tumut, a "greater glider possum" was the subject of research.

The young female possum was put through a series of tests to determine, amongst other things, her state of health and this included the collection of samples of blood. Wildlife vet Karen Viggers told "The Times" that greater glider possums are not a common sight, due mainly to their remote habitat. They normally live in the upper canopy of the forest, usually in hollows of trees. The possums will climb from their hollow in the trunk of a tree to the tree-top and glide from there to another tree. Glider possums enjoy a diet of eucalyptus leaves and are particularly fond of the foliage found on peppermint and river gums.

Dr. David Lindenmayer said, "There is a special story about gliders. In 1963 a scientist was working in the Tumut area when the pine plantations were being put in around the Bondo barracks. At that time a large number of eucalyptus forests were being cleared to plant pine.

"This meant that many glider possums did not survive and the above mentioned scientist collected around 1,000 specimens and gave them to various museums.

"We have actually been able to collect and use the skin, and take samples of teeth from the skulls of these specimens, as well as extracting the DNA. From this we can work out the genetics of the population of glider possums back in 1963/64, prior to the pine plantation Dr. Lindenmayer continued.

"Current samples taken some 35 years later show the changes which have taken place. It is the first time such a comparison has ever taken place anywhere in the world."

"The current research project is funded by organizations with an interest in sustainable forestry plantation design and management, which include Visy, CSR, State Forests, NSW Parks, Department of Land and Water Conservation and many others," Dr. Lindenmayer said.

Members of the research team said they are pleased with the results of the survey, with six species of possums, 100 species of birds and four species of small marsupials being identified living in the forest floor in the Buccleuch and Nanangroe Forests. Some 70 possums have been "caught and released" in the past 12 months.