4 Aussie animals that are restoration experts

To celebrate World Wildlife Day, we are tipping our hats to our fellow restoration experts in the animal kingdom.

Ecosystem engineers’ are organisms that play a significant role in shaping and modifying their environment, creating habitats for themselves and other species by physically changing their surroundings – or by modifying themselves (like trees and corals).

Here are four Australian animals who help create habitat in their own specialised ways. Which of these do you think qualify for the title of ‘ecosystem engineer’?

1. Flying foxes

While we are snoring in bed, hardworking flying foxes are literally making forests, carrying pollen between far away trees and shrubs and helping ensure the genetic diversity of plant populations stays healthy. They can spread up to 60,000 seeds each along a 50 km stretch of land every night (just imagine, they’re like nature’s drone seeders!).

2. Bettongs

Bettongs – like other burrowing Aussie animals (wombats, bilbies, bandicoots and more!) – actively modify the environment with their diggings. A single bettong can turn over 2-6 tonnes of soil per year, speeding up leaf decomposition, reducing fuel loads and fire risk, improving water infiltration, and creating ideal conditions for seed germination.

Bettongs also love to eat native truffles (underground fruiting bodies of mycorrhizal fungi) and spread the spores of these fungi… which in turn help eucalypts and other plants access more nutrients from the soil.

3. Emus

Emus tuck into a huge variety of plants, eating mostly seeds, flowers, fruit, roots and insects. Their generalist diet, their gut retention time (varies but can be 100 days!), and the distance they can travel makes them very important seed spreaders too – especially since they’re found across almost all of the mainland. Some seeds that spend time in an emu’s gut are also more likely to sprout, since the digestive juices weaken their tough outer casings.

4. Lyrebirds

Lyrebirds aren’t truffle junkies like bettongs, but they sure know how to shift some leaves! As they rake around foraging for food, they can move an average 155 tonnes of soil and leaf litter per hectare in a single year. This incredible amount of turnover changes litter decomposition and the structure of soil on the forest floor, and creates opportunities for other species, with important implications for groundcover plants, fire behaviour and post-fire ecosystem recovery.

Photo by Geoffrey Moore on Unsplash

What does all this have to do with Greening Australia? All our projects are focused on ecosystem restoration, so understanding the roles of keystone species like flying foxes, bettongs, emus and lyrebirds is crucial for helping us plan and design plantings that will have a sustained impact for biodiversity. And we’re grateful to have wildlife helping rebuild nature alongside us as well!

P.S. We found sources online claiming the ‘ecosystem engineer’ title for bettongs and lyrebirds. Perhaps a case could be made for flying foxes and emus too! What other Aussie animals do you think qualify for the title?

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