Greening Australia recently teamed up with the Northern Agricultural Catchments Council (NACC) to secure funding from the Gunduwa Regional Conservation Association. Using the funding, we’ve developed a spatially explicit prioritisation tool to help guide habitat restoration and management for Malleefowl in Western Australia’s Midwest.
The Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) is one of just three Australian species of mound-building birds. They use their large, powerful feet to create enormous mounds of sand and leaf litter, where they incubate their eggs.
The chicks hatch from the buried eggs with up to a metre of sand above them – their struggle to the surface can take up to 15 hours. Once they emerge they receive no care from their parents, but can feed and run almost immediately, and fly within a day.
Malleefowl are found in all mainland states of Australia except Queensland, but unfortunately they are threatened wherever they occur. Most of the best habitat for Malleefowl has been cleared or modified for agriculture and the remaining habitat is now highly fragmented. The quality of habitat and the mounds themselves are often impacted by livestock grazing and introduced herbivores including rabbits and goats. They are also preyed on by introduced foxes and feral cats. In Western Australia, they are listed as Fauna That Is Rare Or Is Likely To Become Extinct.
We added the most current data available to Malleefowl population assessments by J. Short and B. Parsons from 2008 to create a MARXAN-based GIS model. The model identifies where habitat restoration and other management actions are likely to have the greatest benefits for Malleefowl conservation. This map shows the areas of differing priorities.
The modelling component took considerable technical expertise, but the real excitement and strength is in the next phase. This is where we’ll road-test the model with landholders, Indigenous groups and local experts in Malleefowl conservation.
Jessica Stingemore from NACC is hitting the road, taking the map-based approach to landholders in high-priority areas. The conversations she has with landholders will test whether undertaking restoration in these areas makes practical sense, whether landholders are supportive of this type of work, and whether there are genuine opportunities for actions that will benefit Malleefowl populations.
If the model passes the ‘pub test’, it will be an invaluable tool for underpinning the next 10 years of Malleefowl management action in WA’s Midwest. We could even roll out versions of the tool across Australia, wherever Malleefowl populations are declining.
This article is adapted from one that originally appeared in the Autumn 2019 edition of Around the Mounds, the newsletter of the National Malleefowl Recovery Team.
The Malleefowl is one of 25 flagship threatened animals that Greening Australia actively seeks to conserve. We’ve delivered Malleefowl habitat restoration projects in South Australia and Victoria, as well as Western Australia.