Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions

Advice to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) on Amendments to the List of Ecological Communities under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)

1. Name

A nomination was received for the Open/Dry Heath ecological community. Although the nomination was limited to the South-east Queensland Bioregion, Griffith (1993) noted that coastal dry heaths dominated by wallum banksia (Banksia aemula) and black sheoak (Allocasuarina littoralis) also extend into the NSW North Coast Bioregion. Therefore, the name of the ecological community has been changed to Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions to reflect its broader, national distribution. 

2. National Context

The Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions ecological community is distributed along the east coast of Australia from Noosa National Park in south-east Queensland, south to Crowdy Bay National Park on the central NSW coast. The ecological community's distribution within this area is confined to a series of small, restricted patches (Griffith 1993).

In Queensland, this ecological community is recognised as Regional Ecosystem 12.2.13, open dry heath on Quaternary dunes and beaches, and is listed as being "of concern". All existing sites of RE 12.2.13 occur within Noosa Shire, mostly within Noosa National Park, to the east of Lake Weyba (Accad et al. 2001). The remainder of the Queensland stands occur on freehold or leasehold lands adjoining Noosa National Park.

In NSW, the Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions ecological community occurs in very restricted patches on the north coast of NSW between Crowdy Bay and Broadwater National Parks (Griffith 1993). It is present in several coastal conservation areas, including Broadwater, Bundjalung, Yuraygir, Hat Head and Crowdy Bay National Parks and Limeburners Creek and Kattang Nature Reserves. The majority of the stands in NSW also occur in conservation reserves, with the remainder present on crown or aboriginal-owned lands.

3. Description

The Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions ecological community is characterised by the following combination of features (Batianoff and Elsol 1989; Accad et al. 2001):

  • wallum banksia (Banksia aemula) and black sheoak (Allocasuarina littoralis) are typical co-dominant species;
  • occurrences on well-draining coastal dunes and sandy plains with Quaternary sand deposits;
  • vegetation comprises a rich biodiversity of shrub species forming a medium to dense layer about 0.5 to 3 m tall;
  • overstorey Eucalyptus trees and understorey grasses are scarce to absent.

In Queensland, the ecological community is recognised as Regional Ecosystem 12.2.13, which equates with map-units 18 and 19 of Batianoff and Elsol's (1989) vegetation map of the Sunshine Coast. These are areas of high dune heath and scrub co-dominated by a wallum banksiaandblack sheoakassociation that intergrades with heathlands where either one of these two species may predominate or no species is an apparent dominant.

Apart from the co-dominants, wallum banksiaandblack sheoak, typical shrub species in this ecological community include several species of tea tree (Leptospermum spp.), beard heaths (Leucopogon spp.) and grass trees (Xanthorrhoea spp.), wedding bush (Ricinocarpos pinifolia) and small-leaved geebung (Persoonia virgata)(Batianoff and Elsol 1989). A list of species known to occur in this ecological community is presented in Table 1.

It should be noted that wallum banksia also forms alliances with other species of Allocasuarina in dry heathlands further south of Crowdy Bay National Park, in NSW. A wallum banksia - Allocasuarina simulans dry heathland is restricted to Booti Booti National Park, near Forster, and Allocasuarina distyla occurs with wallum banksia on the Bouddi Peninsula, near Gosford (Griffith 1993). The A. simulans association is described as mid to tall closed heathland on podzolised Quaternary sands, and is present only on dunes exposed to prevailing onshore winds (Griffith et al. 2000). These associations appear to be distinctive from the Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions ecological community and, therefore, are not included as part of this ecological community.

In Queensland, the ecological community occurs on coastal high dunes formed from sands blown off the beach and accumulating to heights up to 50 m, extending to 100m where the dunes overlay a rocky substrate (Batianoff and Elsol 1989). These dune systems originated from several sand accumulation events and, consequently, comprise of overlapping dunes formed from Pleistocene and Holocene deposits. The soils are giant podzols and giant humus podzols that are generally very low in fertility (Batianoff and Elsol 1989). The dunes are well stabilised by the vegetation cover.

The fauna of the Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions ecological community has not been surveyed.

4. How judged by TSSC in relation to the EPBC Act criteria.

The TSSC judges the ecological community to be ineligible for listing under the EPBC Act.  The justification against the criteria is as follows:

Criterion 1 - Decline in geographic distribution

The Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions ecological community has declined from its pre-clearing extent. Data on the estimated pre-clearing extent and current extent are available only for Queensland Regional Ecosystem 12.2.13, which occurs in the South-east Queensland Bioregion. The estimated pre-clearing area of this ecological community was 1,022 ha.  By 1999, the extent of this RE had declined to 418 ha, a reduction of 59% (Accad et al. 2001). Of this, 293 ha (or 89% of the remaining patches in Queensland) are conserved in National Parks.

In NSW, this ecological community presently covers 134 ha, mostly in small patches located within conservation areas between Broadwater and Crowdy Bay National Parks (Griffith 1993).  About 100 ha (or 75% of the remaining patches in NSW) are estimated to occur in conservation reserves, with the reminder present on crown or aboriginal-owned lands. No data are available on the pre-clearing extent of the ecological community in NSW, so it is not possible to determine its extent of geographic decline in NSW.

The extent of decline of the Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions ecological community is 59% in Queensland and unknown in NSW. A minimum decline of 70% is required for an ecological community to be listed as vulnerable. The available evidence, therefore, indicates that the ecological community is not eligible for listing under this criterion.

Criterion 2 - Small geographic distribution coupled with demonstrable threat

The Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions ecological community occurs in disjunct patches between Noosa National Park in Queensland and Crowdy Bay National Park in NSW.  The estimated present area of occupancy for this ecological community is about 552 ha, of which the majority (418 ha) occurs in Queensland. The pre-clearing area of occupancy is known only for the Queensland stands and amounts to 1,022 ha (Accad et al. 2001). The available data indicates that this ecological community has a naturally restricted geographic distribution.

The nomination provides no information on the sizes of extant patches of the Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions ecological community. The mapping undertaken by Batianoff and Elsol (1989) and the Queensland Herbarium/EPA for Regional Ecosystem 12.2.13 shows that this ecological community comprises about four stands in Queensland. Patch sizes are unavailable for NSW stands, except for a note by Griffith (1993) that this ecological community covers 16 ha in Yuraygir National Park. The extent of this ecological community in NSW conservation reserves is estimated to be about 100 ha and it is known to occur in seven conservation reserves (Griffith 2000). Based on this data, the average patch size is small, about 14 ha.

The primary threats to the Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions ecological community include habitat fragmentation, weed invasion (especially by bitou bush and lantana) and inappropriate fire regimes. Although these threats certainly exist within conservation reserves, most national parks prepare and implement management plans to alleviate threats. Park management plans have been prepared, or are in preparation, for all the northern coastal national parks of NSW and for Noosa National Park. A majority of the extant stands of the Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions ecological community occur within conservation reserves (about 393 ha of the 552 ha total, or 71%). The extent of conservation is high in both NSW and Queensland. The non-conserved component comprises freehold land adjoining national park (Queensland) or crown-aboriginal lands (NSW).

Despite the restricted distribution of this ecological community, the high proportion present in conservation reserves indicates that the majority of stands occur in areas where demonstrable threats are able to be managed and it is not clear that these threats will be ongoing. Therefore, this ecological community is not eligible for listing under this criterion.

Criterion 3 - Loss or decline of functionally important species

The nomination provides no data under this criterion.

Criterion 4 - Reduction in community integrity

One indicator for the reduction in integrity of an ecological community is the degree to which stands of the ecological community are fragmented.  In NSW, the average size of fragments of the nominated ecological community appear to be small, about 14 ha.  Smaller patches are more likely to be disturbed by threatening processes than larger patches. However, the majority of the ecological community occurs in managed conservation reserves, where threats from agricultural and urban developments should be minimal and actions should be taken to ameliorate any threats from weed invasion and inappropriate fire regimes. Therefore, this ecological community is not eligible for listing under this criterion.

Criterion 5 - Rate of continuing detrimental change

Accad et al. (2001) provide data by which the rate of clearing for the Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions ecological community can be determined. Such data are available for Queensland only. Six ha of this ecological community were cleared from freehold/leasehold lands and none cleared from national park lands between 1997 and 1999. Given that this ecological community covered 424 ha in Queensland in 1997, this represents a clearing rate of three ha/year or a proportional loss of 1.4% for the period 1997-1999. Since a minimum detrimental change of 30% over the immediate past or projected for the immediate future is required for an ecological community to be listed as vulnerable, a reduction of 1.4% for the Queensland component of the ecological community in the period 1997-1999 indicates that the ecological community is not eligible for listing under this criterion.

Criterion 6 - Quantitative analysis showing probability of extinction

The nomination provides no information under this criterion.

5. Conclusion

The Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions is not eligible for listing under the EPBC Act.

6. Recommendation

The TSSC recommends that

  • the name of the ecological community be changed to Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregionsto reflect its broader, national extent; and

  • the Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions be rejected because the available information under criteria 1, 2, 4 and 5 did not support listing and lack of information prevented assessment under criteria 3 and 6.

Table 1 Native plant species present in Queensland stands of the Open Dry Heath in the South-east Queensland and NSW North Coast Bioregions ecological community. Source: Nomination, Expert advice from the Queensland Herbarium and Batianoff and Elsol (1989). Bold = EPBC-listed threatened plant species.

Scientific name Common name
Acacia attenuata Wattle
Acacia baueri ssp. baueri Wattle
Acacia suavolens Sweet wattle
Acacia ulicifolia Prickly moses
Acrotriche aggregata Tall ground berry
Allocasuarina littoralis Black sheoak
Aotus ericoides Common aotus
Astrotricha glabra  
Austromyrtus dulcis Midgen berry
Banksia aemula Wallum banksia
Banksia oblongifolia Dwarf banksia
Boronia falcifolia Wallum boronia
Bossiaea heterophylla  
Brachyloma daphnoides Daphne heath
Brachyloma scortechinii  
Caustis recurvata  
Coleocarya gracilis  
Conospermum taxifolium Heath-leaved smokebush
Dillwynia floribunda Showy parrot pea
Dillwynia glaberrima Smooth parrot pea
Dillwynia retorta Parrot pea
Epacris microphylla Coral heath
Epacris obtusifolia Heath
Epacris pulchella Wallum heath
Goodenia arenicola  
Grevillea reptans Tin Can Bay grevillea
Hakea acites  
Hakea florulenta  
Homoranthus virgatus  
Isolepis nodosa Knobby club-rush
Jacksonia stackhousii Wallum dogwood
Laxmannia gracilis  
Lepidosperma laterale Sword sedge
Leptocarpus tenax  
Leptospermum flavescens Tea tree
Leptospermum polygalifolium Yellow tea tree
Leptospermum semibaccatum Wallum tea tree
Leptospermum trinervium Woolly tea tree
Leucopogon leptospermoides Beard heath
Leucopogon pedicellatus Wallum beard heath
Leucopogon pimeleoides Beard heath
Leucopogon virgatus Beard heath
Lomandra spp. Mat rush
Macarthuria complanata  
Melaleuca nodosa Pricklyleaf paperbark
Melaleuca thymifolia Thyme honey myrtle
Micromyrtus littoralis  
Monotoca scoparia Prickly broom heath
Ochrosperma citriodorum  
Ochrosperma lineare  
Olax angulata Minnie Waters olax
Patersonia fragilis Swamp iris
Patersonia sericea  
Persoonia virgata Small-leaved geebung
Petrophile shirleyae Cone bush
Phebalium woombye Wallum phebalium
Philotheca myoporoides ssp. queenslandica Wallum wax flower
Phyllota phylicoides Yellow pea bush
Pimelea linifolia Slender rice flower
Prasophyllum wallum Leek orchid
Pseudanthus orientalis  
Pultenea paleacea var pauciflora Bush pea
Ricinocarpos pinifolius Wedding bush
Sowerbaea juncea Vanilla lily
Strangea linearis  
Stylidium ornatum Trigger plant
Styphelia viridis  
Themeda triandra Kangaroo grass
Woollsia pungens  
Xanthorrhoea fulva Swamp grass tree
Xanthorrhoea johnsonii Grass tree
Xanthorrhoea latifolia ssp. latifolia Grass tree
Zieria laxiflora  

Publications used to assess the nomination

Accad, A., Nelder, V.J., Wilson, B.A. and Neihus, R.E. (2001). Remnant Vegetation in Queensland: Analysis of Pre-clearing Remnant 1997-1999 Regional Ecosystem Information. Brisbane: Queensland Herbarium; Environmental Protection Agency.

Batianoff, G.N. and Elsol, J.A. (1989) Vegetation of the Sunshine Coast. Description and Management. Queensland Botany Bulletin No. 7. Brisbane: Queensland Department of Primary Industries.

Griffith, S.J. (1993) Conservation Status of Coastal Plant Communities in Northern New South Wales - A Review. Unpublished report. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service; Save the Bush Program.

Griffith, S.J., Wilson, R. and Maryott-Brown, K. (2000) Vegetation and flora of Booti Booti National Park and Yahoo Nature Reserve, lower north coast of New South Wales. Cunninghamia 6(3): 645-716.