National recovery plan for the Black-eared Miner Manorina melanotis 2002 - 2006

Conservation of old-growth dependent mallee fauna
Prepared by David Baker-Gabb for the Black-eared Miner Recovery Team, February 2001
(Revised February 2003)

Acknowledgments

This Recovery Plan for the Black-eared Miner has been developed from earlier versions of recovery, research and management plans prepared for the species (eg Backhouse et al 1997), and from extensive discussions and deliberations amongst members of the Black-eared Miner Recovery Team. In particular, Geoffrey Allen, Khia Atkins, Rebecca Boulton, Matt Cameron, Les Christidis, Mike Clarke, Rohan Clarke, Peter Copley, Anne Cowden, Mark Craig, Sonia Dominelli, Beryl English, John English, Ian Falkenberg, Mick Fendley, Bob Goodfellow, Mike Harper, Alec Hawtin, Doug Holly, Russell Manning, Peter Menkhorst, Michael Miller, Emma Moysey, Janette Norman, Vicki-Jo Russell, Gary Slater, Adrian Stokes, Andrew Willson and Mike Wouters provided extensive comments on and contributions to the Plan.

Summary

Current Species Status

The Black-eared Miner Manorina melanotis is classified as Endangered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Using the IUCN threat categories and criteria, the Black-eared Miner was Critically Endangered (Collar et al 1994). The short-term goal of the 1997-2001 Recovery Plan (Backhouse et al 1997) was to stabilise the Black-eared Miner in the Critically Endangered category. More than this was achieved, and in three years its status has improved to Endangered (Garnett and Crowley 2000).

The Black-eared Miner formerly occurred in the 'Murray Mallee' region of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, but is now absent from much of its range. Few birds remain in Victoria and New South Wales, with most colonies now confined to a limited area of mallee to the north-west of Renmark in South Australia. An intensive management program is under way to conserve the Black-eared Miner.

Major Achievements of the 1997-2001 Recovery Plan

In the first four years of the Recovery Program major progress was made including:

  • Increasing the number of known Black-eared Miners by >95% through the discovery of a population of c3,600 birds in the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve.
  • Surveys and discovery of Black-eared Miners in western NSW.
  • Purchase, reservation and effective management of Gluepot Station (54,390 ha) in 1997 and Taylorville Station (90,600 ha) in 1999 which secured the remaining two-thirds of the Black-eared Miner population which was outside the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve.
  • Prominent incorporation of Black-eared Miner habitat requirements into Victoria's fire management plans for mallee National Parks.
  • Confirmation of the taxonomic status of the species.
  • Significant new information on the ecology, social organisation, population dynamics and numbers of Black-eared Miners.
  • Implementation of a successful monitoring program supported by a simple field guide.
  • Further clarification and definition of the habitat requirements of the species.
  • Initiation of measures to control genetic introgression through closing artificial water points and culling Yellow-throated Miners.
  • Successful translocation from South Australia and establishment in a Victorian National Park of four colonies of Black-eared Miners containing 68 birds.
  • Establishment of a captive population of Black-eared Miners at four localities.
  • Outstanding community involvement in field surveys, land management and support for the work of the project officer and students.

Habitat Requirements and Limiting Factors

The Black-eared Miner occurs in extensive mallee eucalypt shrublands, particularly in areas unburnt for >40 years1. Its marked decline since 1950 has been attributed to habitat clearance and to genetic introgression with the abundant, open-woodland dwelling Yellow-throated Miner Manorina flavigula. Major current threats include continued introgression from Yellow-throated Miners (and hybrids), large wildfires, too frequent fires and ongoing habitat degradation by grazing herbivores.

Recovery Goals 2002 - 2006

Short-term Goal

In five years to expand the current range and numbers of the Black-eared Miner in at least three locations and to improve the genetic quality of selected colonies.

Recovery criteria:

  1. no loss of habitat or colonies in large reserves
  2. increasing knowledge of colony numbers, quality and population density in SA
  3. increasing the number colonies and tripling the number of birds to 400 in Victoria
  4. increasing the number of colonies and tripling the number of birds to 150 in NSW
  5. implementing measures to increase the quality of colonies in three States
  6. using experience developed with captive birds to assist recovery in the wild

Long-term Goal

Within 20 years to achieve and maintain a population of high-quality Black-eared Miners with a total effective population size of at least 1000 birds in viable populations in at least five separate locations across its known former range.

Recovery criteria:

  1. maintaining at least the current range and numbers in South Australia
  2. further increasing the number of birds and colonies in Victoria
  3. further increasing the number of birds and colonies in New South Wales
  4. increasing the quality of colonies as a result of threat control and manipulation

Recovery Objectives and Actions 2002 - 2006:

  1. Manage, review and report on the Recovery Program
    • 1.1 Operate the Recovery Team
    • 1.2 Manage the Operations Groups
    • 1.3 Revise the Black-eared Miner Action Statement for Victoria
    • 1.4 Produce a Black-eared Miner Recovery Plan for New South Wales
    • 1.5 Undertake Recovery Program review and evaluation
    • 1.6 Prepare Recovery Program termination criteria
  1. Refine knowledge of the distribution and abundance
    • 2.1. Undertake field surveys in South Australia
    • 2.2. Undertake field surveys in New South Wales
    • 2.3. Undertake field surveys in Victoria
  1. Maintain and enhance habitat
    • 3.1. Produce coordinated Fire Response Plans and Fire Management Plans
    • 3.2. Upgrade fire access tracks in Bookmark
    • 3.3. Install water tanks and strategic fire breaks in Bookmark
    • 3.4. Protect critical habitat from overgrazing in Bookmark
    • 3.5. Protect habitat critical for survival in Victoria and New South Wales
  1. Monitor quality of Black-eared Miner colonies
    • 4.1. Implement the monitoring protocol
    • 4.2. Train more observers to score phenotype
    • 4.3. Determine movement patterns between colonies
    • 4.4. Continue to identify the most valuable colonies
  1. Control genetic introgression of the Black-eared Miner
    • 5.1 Interpret results and develop a control protocol
    • 5.2 Implement and monitor on-ground control of introgression
  1. Maintain captive populations of Black-eared Miners
    • 6.1 Maintain captive colonies of Black-eared Miners
    • 6.2 Use experience with captives to assist translocations
    • 6.3 Prepare a captive management plan
  1. Increase numbers of colonies in Victoria and NSW
    • 7.1 Undertake translocations to Victoria and monitor impacts
    • 7.2 Undertake translocations to New South Wales and monitor impacts
    • 7.3 Collect biological samples
    • 7.4 Develop translocation termination criteria
  1. Use population viability modelling
    • 8.1 Develop a population viability model
  1. Communication to increase community awareness and involvement
    • 9.1 Involve the community in the Recovery Program
    • 9.2 Provide information on the Recovery Program
    • 9.3 Produce a media strategy
Estimated Cost of Recovery 2002 - 2006 ($000s) (TC = Total Cost Other = Funds to be raised)
Objective
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
Total
1 TC
Other
45
19
42
20
41
21
42
22
43
23
213
105
2 TC
Other
12
2
15
2
9
0
0
0
0
0
36
4
3 TC
Other
78
10
82
25
47
20
17
0
52
0
276
55
4 TC
Other
27
13
23
9
29
15
24
10
28
14
131
61
5 TC
Other
15
13
10
9
10
9
10
9
10
9
55
49
6 TC
Other
98
0
98
0
105
0
105
0
105
0
511
0
7 TC
Other
123
68
126
67
135
70
127
73
98
76
609
354
8 TC
Other
0
0
25
25
0
0
0
0
0
0
25
25
9 TC
Other
37
4
17
4
17
4
17
4
17
4
105
20
Total TC
Other
435
129
438
161
393
139
342
118
353
126
1961
673

Biodiversity Benefits and Wider Values of this Recovery Program

Purchase of Gluepot and Taylorville Stations

These two properties (145,000 ha) were purchased in 1997 and 1999, primarily to conserve the Black-eared Miner. They also contain six other nationally threatened species of bird and 17 bird species that are listed as threatened in one or more of the Murray Mallee States (Baker-Gabb 2000). Destocking of these properties will assist the recovery of a range of threatened ground-foraging species such as the Malleefowl, Chestnut Quail-thrush and Southern Scrub-robin (Mack 1970, Benshemesh 1999).

Decommissioning of artificial water points on Gluepot Reserve and parts of Calperum Station has begun in order to reduce the impacts of genetic introgression on the Black-eared Miner. CSIRO studies (Landsberg et al 1997) indicate that this will reduce total grazing pressure and have major biodiversity benefits. Artificial water points have also been closed in Victoria's mallee National Parks and Tarawi Nature Reserve in NSW.

Maintenance of old-growth mallee

The requirement of long-unburnt mallee by the Black-eared Miner has been a key influence on the fire management policies of State agencies and community land managers such as the Australian Landscape Trust and Birds Australia. These policies will also assist the Malleefowl which prefers old-growth mallee too (Benshemesh 1999), and a range of other threatened species such as the Major Mitchell Cockatoo and Scarlet-chested Parrot and many other species of birds, reptiles and bats which require old, hollow-bearing mallees for nesting or roosting (Robertson et al 1989, Higgins 1999).

Community awareness and involvement

While the survival of all species of birds is important to Aboriginal people, small, uncommon species such as the Black-eared Miner are unlikely to have been of major cultural or ecological significance (A Rigney "First Peoples of the River Murray and Mallee Region" pers comm), and there is no published information on indigenous peoples' interactions with them. This contrasts with larger malle birds such as the Malleefowl, Emu Dromaius novaehollandiae, Wedge-tailed Eagle Aquila audax and crow Corvus spp. which are of great cultural significance (Benshemesh 1999, AHC 2000).

Through their work as Volunteer Rangers or Assistant Rangers on Gluepot Reserve, more than 40 people have each spent at least two months assisting the Black-eared Miner Recovery Program during 1997-2000. This depth of involvement for people who will move back into the general community is unusual in a recovery program. The Australian Landscape Trust and La Trobe University have provided a smaller number of volunteer Landcarers and students with extended involvement in the Recovery Program, and the Bookmark Biosphere Trust has involved local schools. These positive experiences will benefit a range of biodiversity initiatives beyond the Black-eared Miner Recovery Program.

More than 200 flora and fauna monitoring sites have been established on Calperum and Taylorville Stations and Gluepot Reserve. Community volunteers and students are trained to undertake the monitoring and their skills will in turn be utilised by the wider community.

Translocations

The successful trial translocation of four colonies of Black-eared Miners from the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve and their establishment c200km east in the Murray-Sunset National Park was an internationally significant event. This was the first successful translocation of colonies of a cooperatively breeding bird. The lessons from this successful trial have implications for a number of species. For example, NRE is considering translocations of isolated colonies of Grey-crowned Babblers in Victoria (Robinson et al 1997).

Scientific publications and postgraduate degrees

Publications in international scientific journals by Ewen et al (in press) and Clarke et al (in press) provide new information on the conservation implications of shifts in primary versus adult sex ratios in birds, and the need for scientific rigour in taxonomic studies. Three PhD studies have been supported by the Black-eared Miner Recovery Program. These postgraduate students will produce a number of scientific publications and move on to careers in biodiversity conservation.

1 Definition of 'old growth' mallee - For the purposes of this Recovery Plan 'old growth' mallee is defined as 'mallee that has remained unburnt for 40 years or more'.