In the diverse but highly fragmented landscape of the Tasmanian Midlands, scientists from the University of Tasmania are conducting research that could result in a paradigm shift away from the traditional human centric approach to restoration.
The research forms part of our Tasmania Island Ark program which is working to recreate over 6,000ha of habitat across Tasmania to create a stronghold for Australia’s critically endangered animals.
Associate Professor Menna Jones and her team are investigating a new approach to restoration which is based on how animals use the landscape rather than the standard view of vegetation as a substitute for habitat.
“Traditionally restoration has been fairly formulaic. It has focused on the ‘Field of Dreams’ hypothesis, that if you build it they will come, but restoration it is not as straightforward as that. We need to think about how animals use the landscape and what their individual needs are, such as what features they require in their habitat to find food while avoiding predators,” says Dr Jones.
A Spotted-tailed Quoll that has been fitted with a GPS tracking collar so its movements across the landscape can be monitored.
“Currently, our view of restoration relies on the human view of what habitat is but that is not how animals see it. This often results in restored areas that don’t have animals in them or don’t contain species that used to occur there. We haven’t really measured the things that those animals need to persist in the landscape.”
“Animals look at habitat as a set of deconstructed elements with each having a key use. To effectively conserve our wildlife, we need to develop an animal-centric view of the landscape.”
Menna works with five PhD students from the University of Tasmania, each of whom are researching different aspects of the project across 120 sites which effectively cover the entire midlands ecosystem.
“We are looking at connectivity at multiple scales from large-scale connectivity, like the patches of woodland in a sea of pastures, to fine-scale connectivity, such as the amount of cover individual animals need for refuge and shelter.”
One PHD student, Rowena Hamer, is using GPS tracking to learn how various carnivore species, both native and feral, are using the landscape. As well as tracking the movements of species like the Spotted-tailed Quoll and Tasmanian Devil, Rowena is investigating the behavioral decisions they make along the way and how this affects their movements.
“Gap-crossing distances is one of the aspects that will have significant implications for how we restore landscapes. Bettongs for example are woodland specialists and require lots of cover to move through, whilst Spotted-tailed Quolls are happy crossing larger gaps, as are feral cats. Using connectivity mapping we can use this information to restore areas that best meet the gap preferences of both native species,” says Dr Jones.
“Our research will inform how restoration should be done and will inform future advice that can be given out to farmers on how to manage their land sustainably.”
“It is not just about planting trees or shrubs. We need to manage existing pastures to restore understory and ground layers, and retain important habitat features like logs and rocks which traditionally landholders have been keen to “clean up”
PhD student from the University of Tasmania, Rowena Hamer, releasing a Tasmanian Devil.
“Whilst parks and reserves are absolutely crucial for biodiversity conservation, formal parks alone are quite inadequate. Most of Australia, is under private land so unless we can engage with landholders to look after and enhance the biodiversity on their land, it’s a lost cause. We are lucky in the midlands to have so many farmers who have a deep interest in looking after these areas for future generations because without them, it simply wouldn’t be possible.”
“The work we are doing in Tasmania is really significant on a national and international scale. We do have an ongoing gradual loss of habitat but it hasn’t gone so far that we cannot bring the system back. This research will tell us the best way to go about doing that.”