Conservation of old-growth dependent mallee fauna
Prepared by David Baker-Gabb for the Black-eared Miner Recovery Team, February 2001
(Revised February 2003)
5. Existing conservation measures
- Taxonomy and Identification
- Survey and Monitoring
- Habitat Preferences
- Habitat Protection
- Research into Black-eared Miner Biology and Ecology
- Captive Populations
- Trial Translocations
- Community Support
- Recovery Planning
The Recovery Program is a complex effort involving many agencies, organisations and individuals, with considerable risk and uncertainty. There are inherent problems in managing a program covering three States, and in coordinating and communicating amongst all participants, given the large distances involved. The remote nature of the bird's habitat also poses problems. Nonetheless, substantial progress has been achieved, particularly in the last four years. The following is a summary of the principle recovery activities undertaken to date.
Confusion over the taxonomic status of the Black-eared Miner hampered early recovery efforts, and so an important action was to resolve the bird's taxonomic identity. A molecular study to clarify the phylogenetic relationships and genetic distinctiveness of the Black-eared Miner was completed by Museum of Victoria staff in 1996. This study confirmed that the Black-eared Miner is a distinct species (Christidis 1995). Clarke et al (in press) undertook by far the most rigorous phenotypic study to date and also concluded that the Black-eared Miner is a species. To aid identification of Black-eared Miners and hybrids in the field, an improved identification guide was devised by Clarke and Clarke (1998).
Field surveys have been conducted in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, largely by Birds Australia staff and volunteers, and more recently by La Trobe University project officers and Bookmark volunteers (Joseph 1986; Starks 1988; McLaughlin 1990, 1994, 1996; Franklin 1996, Clarke and Clarke 1998, 1999a, Boulton and Clarke 2000a, 2000b). Monitoring of some colonies in Victoria was undertaken by NRE (Johnson 1988, 1989). Since 1996 the extensive mallee habitat in and around the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve in South Australia has been the major focus for surveys and a monitoring program.
Work to determine the habitat preferences, including structure, floristics and fire history, of the Black-eared Miner, and identifying habitat critical to the conservation of the species has been undertaken in Victoria (McLaughlin 1992) as described in Section 2 of this Plan. More recently habitat preferences were studied in South Australia (Muir et al 1999), but because all of the habitat was old-growth, fire history preferences could not be distinguished. Further work is needed on this topic and a PhD study commenced in 2000 to look at landscape use by Black-eared Miners, including fire history impacts.
Clearing of mallee has largely ceased in South Australia. The central importance of Black-eared Miner habitat in South Australia has only been widely known since 1995, although the nature conservation values of the area have been recognised for some time. The purchase of the lease for Calperum Station by Environment Australia and the Chicago Zoological Society in 1993, and the creation of the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve to cover Calperum and neighbouring conservation reserves recognised the importance of maintaining one of the largest contiguous mallee remnants in Australia, and the region's outstanding nature conservation values.
The situation was enhanced in 1997 when Birds Australia purchased Gluepot Station. This 54,400 ha pastoral lease joins the western boundary of Calperum Station and contains seven globally threatened species of birds including the Black-eared Miner. Gluepot Reserve is now the largest area under a Heritage Agreement in South Australia. In 1999 Environment Australia and the Australian Landscape Trust purchased the neighbouring pastoral lease for Taylorville Station (92,600 ha) to protect the Black-eared Miner. Both Gluepot Reserve and Taylorville Station have been added to the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve. Most of the habitat critical for the survival of the Black-eared Miner in South Australia is now reserved and managed by community representatives and volunteers. Habitat protection for the Black-eared Miner and other threatened mallee flora and fauna is a high priority in the internationally significant Bookmark Biosphere Reserve (BBT 1995). Areas of mallee containing potential Black-eared Miner habitat also receive protection in several conservation reserves south of the Murray River.
The policy of rapid suppression of wildfires throughout Bookmark, including direct attack when feasible, will aid in protecting Black-eared Miner habitat from wildfires. Nevertheless, vegetation and fire history mapping, followed by strategic strip burns and other on-ground works (eg Willson 1999) are needed. Managers of the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve have campaigned vigorously to remove threats from mineral exploration and extraction and power line easements that could result in large areas of old-growth mallee being cleared or further fragmented.
Clearance of mallee has largely ceased in Victoria, and 80% of all remaining mallee has been incorporated into conservation reserves. This includes all areas containing, or known to have contained, Black-eared Miner colonies. Strategic closure of artificial water points has also taken place. Fire management on public land in north-western Victoria has shifted from widespread controlled burning to planned strategic fire breaks and a rapid response to suppressing wildfire (Fitzherbert et al 1992; J Cooke pers comm.), which will aid protection of Black-eared Miner habitat. A fire management plan that includes protection of remaining old-growth mallee and facilitates regeneration of burnt habitat has been implemented for Victorian mallee reserves. Black-eared Miner habitat has been mapped and digitised and is given high priority in fire planning and suppression (M Wouters pers comm).
New South Wales
There are large areas of mallee protected in New South Wales. The 33,600 ha Tarawi Nature Reserve includes 20,000 ha of mallee habitat not burnt for at least 80 years. Tarawi has implemented a model fire plan and replaced earth dams with sealed tanks (Willson 1999). Tarawi adjoins c80,000 ha of mallee in privately-owned Scotia Sanctuary. Although the 58,000 ha Mallee Cliffs National Park has extensive areas of mallee, most of the park was burnt during the wildfires of 1974-75. The park may provide suitable habitat in the long-term as the mallee vegetation ages post-fire. About 40,000 ha of mallee will be protected when the additions to Mungo National Park are finalised.
Since 1996 a three-year PhD has greatly increased our knowledge of the reproductive biology and ecology of the Black-eared and Yellow-throated Miner. This project has supported the captive and field management components of the Recovery Program, helped to address land management issues and paved the way for the successful trial translocations. Research on the biology of Yellow-throated Miners increased our understanding of interactions between the two species. Three years of work by the Project Officer have provided vastly more information than existed before on breeding season and success, population numbers and density, and colony quality and stability.
Hybrid Black-eared Miners from a colony in Wyperfeld National Park in Victoria were established in captivity in late 1995, supplemented with additional birds captured from South Australia in January 1997. Both groups successfully bred within their first year in captivity, but overall breeding success has been low. In early 2000 there were 15 birds at Healesville Sanctuary, one pair at Adelaide Zoo and two pairs at Monarto.
In 1999 a translocation proposal for the Black-eared Miner was produced (Clarke and Clarke 1999b). In late 2000, four colonies (56 adults and 12 fledglings) were moved c200 km from Bookmark to the Murray-Sunset National Park. Twelve nestlings and eight eggs which could not be translocated were hand-reared. Two colonies were released and monitored and two were kept in field aviaries for a week and then released. The birds remained in their general release area for the two months that they were monitored, and at least ten nests were built and two nests produced one fledgling each (Boulton 2001). Hence the first year of translocation trials was remarkably successful.
For a bird living in a generally remote and inhospitable region, community support for Black-eared Miner conservation has been substantial. With the recent purchase of Gluepot Station by Birds Australia and Taylorville Station by Environment Australia and the Australian Landscape Trust, the majority of the South Australian Black-eared Miner habitat is now being managed by conservation organisations or agencies. Both Birds Australia and the Australian Landscape Trust have raised funds, contributed to surveys, managed research and land management programs to benefit threatened mallee species (BBT 1995, Baker-Gabb 2000). At Calperum Station and Gluepot Reserve accommodation and resources are provided for the Black-eared Miner Project Officer and numerous volunteers who assist the recovery of the species. Gluepot Reserve also provides facilities for bird-watchers and opportunities for the public to see the Black-eared Miner and other mallee birds. Community members involved in the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve program have been instrumental in survey work and raising local awareness of the Black-eared Miner and issues affecting its conservation. Members of field naturalist and bird clubs have assisted in survey and monitoring work, particularly in Victoria.
A Recovery Team was formed in 1991 to coordinate preparation and implementation of recovery efforts for the Black-eared Miner, particularly in Victoria. A variety of planning processes have been used to guide recovery of the Black-eared Miner (Fitzherbert et al 1992; McLaughlin 1993b; Middleton 1993). Once the taxonomic status of the Black-eared Miner was confirmed in 1995, a new national Recovery Plan was prepared and additional funding for implementation of the Recovery Program obtained (Backhouse et al 1995). The Recovery Team was expanded to incorporate additional expertise and to manage the Recovery Program across all range States and land tenures. Discovery of the miner colonies in the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve in South Australia necessitated a major revision of the 1995 recovery plan to incorporate the new information into the Recovery Program (Backhouse et al 1997). The Team concentrates on preparing and monitoring implementation of the recovery plan and strategic planning, with day to day implementation and operations the responsibility of the Captive Management and Field Management Operations Groups. Organisations, agencies and individuals at a national, State and regional level, including both government and community groups, are represented on the Recovery Team (Appendix 1). These groups have made substantial contributions in expanding the range of expertise available for the Black-eared Miner recovery effort.
Many published and unpublished reports and papers on Black-eared Miner biology, conservation and management have been prepared (most are included in the Bibliography section of this Recovery Plan). These reports and papers provide a detailed record and wealth of information on Black-eared Miner conservation and also include many issues applicable to broader biodiversity conservation in the mallee. An information brochure on conservation and management of the Black-eared Miner in Victoria has also been prepared.